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OVERCOMER: One step ahead of the other Kendrick entries

“Overcomer” has one triumphant strength, and her name is Aryn Wright-Thompson.

As a struggling high school runner in this latest from the Kendricks, her performance is so effortless and compelling that the film’s few flaws fall right by the wayside.

And I do mean “few.”

Alex and Stephen Kendrick are the Georgia brothers who’ve made a career of writing and directing faith-based indies (“Fireproof,” “Courageous”) that turn a hefty profit due to modest budgets and crowd-pleasing appeal.

Their films are both engaging and skilled, though sometimes too preachy, with a tendency to Spell Things Out in a way that feels more like a sermon than a work of art. “Overcomer” does this in a couple of scenes, but in general it works -- definitely the best Kendrick film I’ve seen.

Alex Kendrick plays John Harrison, a history teacher who loses his basketball coaching slot when a local factory closes, causing a mass exodus from town and team. The principal asks him to cover cross country instead, which seems to him like a big step down -- especially since he has only one runner.

And she’s got asthma.

Then one day on a hospital visit, Harrison meets a blind diabetic who will change his life -- and that of his star athlete as well.

The young lady’s conversion scene is, like one or two other moments, overwritten; but I could not find a false note anywhere in the film’s many performances, and this helps smooth over the awkwardness.

Wright-Thompson pretty much carries the film on her slim but sturdy shoulders; she consistently underplays her scenes, and her general demeanor is an affecting blend of humility and determination -- which befits the girl’s character, who has lost both parents and lives with a devoted grandma.

Matching Wright-Thompson stride for stride is Cameron Arnett as the aging patient, a man who’s been crushed and abandoned -- and then put back together by a heavenly forgiver. His raw and utterly convincing performance recalls Hemingway’s famous dictum, “The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”

The Kendricks’ storyline is top-notch, even if sometimes predictable. Their plot-device in the climax will feel too sentimental to some, but I thought it was a stroke of genius; I couldn’t have torn myself away if you’d paid me.

At the moment, Rotten Tomatoes shows only 40 percent of nationwide critics liking this film -- as opposed to 98 percent of regular viewers.

Since the Kendricks clearly make movies for ordinary folks who need extraordinary help, I suspect this disparity is just fine with them.

In any case, you can count me among the 40 percent.

And the 98.


directed by Alex Kendrick

Run time: 119 min.

* * * 1/2 (out of four)

Rated PG for thematic elements

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