In the Kendrick brothers new film, Overcomer, high school basketball coach John Harrison (Alex Kendrick) is set to have a championship season with a strong core of starters returning for the upcoming season. However, the local steel manufacturing plant closes, leading to thousands of families having to relocate to find work. This costs Harrison many of his best players. Hopes of a championship disappear, and it’s an open question whether the school will still have a basketball program. In the midst of this, he’s asked to take over the cross country program which only has one runner, a girl with asthma named Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson.)

What Works:

Each Kendrick brothers film continues to improve production values. If you compare the sports action scenes in this movie to that of Facing the Giants, it’s so much better and so much easier to follow. The acting is the best we’ve ever seen from a Kendrick Brothers movie. That sort of stiff amateur acting that could be a big distraction in their early films like Flywheel and Facing the Giants is rare and the main cast all turn in good performances. The film’s religious content feels more natural, like something that would be said or done in real life.

Cameron Arnett deserves special praise for his performance as Thomas Hill, a blind diabetic man who used to be a cross country runner and who John befriends after meeting him while visiting the hospital.

The climatic scene is one of the best that the Kendrick brothers have ever done. It’s well-shot, exciting, and also incredibly emotional.

The core question of the movie is one of identity and where it’s found. The appeal of the movie can be seen that issue is key to both a middle-aged coach dealing with a career crisis and a teenage girl because of conflicting cultural messages around her as well as pain over being left orphaned. The film’s ultimate message about identity being found in Christ is powerfully conveyed and much-needed in a world where so many different forces are trying to define who we are.

What Kind of Works:

Hannah’s character isn’t well-developed during the first half of the movie. However, I think the lack of development may be intentional. We’re given enough details about Hannah to empathize with her, but the underdevelopment invites the target audience to put themselves into her shoes. It worked for Twilight, though I wonder if they were trying to emulate that.

What Doesn’t Work:

Several scenes served only to pad the runtime.  This is an ongoing issue. It’s not as bad as in War Room but this one could have easily cut twenty minutes of scenes without losing anything significant.

In addition, the handling of the characters’ storylines is uneven. A big chunk of the movie focuses on Harrison and his family and has Hannah as a side character, and raises questions about John’s future as a basketball coach and whether his eldest son will get to go to college on a basketball scholarship. The movie leaves these plot lines unresolved. While this may help the Kendricks avoid accusations of setting up a false “prosperity” paradigm, it leaves the films with some dangling plot threads.

The one character trait Hannah is given at the start of the film is she steals stuff randomly such as a set of headphones, an mp3 player, a watch. Why she steals or how it makes her feel is never explored. It feels like stealing is a substitute for more common negative behaviors of teens struggling with identity such as drug and alcohol use and illicit sex. Such content would lead to a PG-13 rating with the MPAA, be more challenging to film, and would offend the Christian Conservatives who expect “clean” media from them. So its understandable why they went with a “safe” negative behavior. However, they should have done a better job establishing her motives in the narrative of the film.

Overall Thoughts:

There are circles where it is cool to dunk on the Kendrick Brothers as people who make awful religious films that appeal to people with no taste in movies. That’s unfair.  While the films are far from perfect, the Kendricks brothers have been doing some very important things right.

Over the past thirteen years, independently made Christian films have boomed. They’ve produced four films over that time with each outdoing the last one financially to date. The films have enjoyed success despite not being a biblical epic like Son of God, a supernatural story like Heaven is for Real, or having its basis in a compelling true-life story like Soul Surfer or best-selling novel like The Shack. The Kendricks have succeeded by telling stories set about ordinary people living in the suburban and rural South, where the only miracles are “divine appointments” and an occasional shift of the wind that a skeptic would dismiss as coincidence.

The films succeed because they talk about important things in the lives of believers and do so with warmth, humor, and charm. Most importantly, the Kendricks have a talent for connecting with the hearts of their audience with compelling character journeys and moments.

That’s what you get with Overcomer. While the film is padded in some areas and could use development in others, it’s nevertheless an effective and moving story about finding our identity in Christ. It’s the best produced of the Kendrick Brothers films. If you’ve enjoyed other Kendrick Brothers projects, you’ll enjoy this one. If you haven’t enjoyed their past efforts, it won’t change your mind about them.

Rating: 3.75 out of 5

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