Movie Review: Overcomer (2019)
Looking beyond the standard releases of expensive superhero features, lavishing period piece dramas, gruesomely violent horror endeavors, popular animated films, so-so comedy pieces, and a plethora of “page to screen” adaptations, faith-based movies get their usual yearly releases; presenting narratives of religious nuances within their storytelling. The ideas of a person (or group) facing adversity that challenges their beliefs as well as sometimes dealing with loss of faith or the discovering of one is also a palpable message for these types of movies to tackle. These films, while usually can be a bit “on the nose” with its meaning, still finds its strides within its thematic presentation of discussing personal beliefs of faith and understanding. Now, Affirm Films (as well as Provident Films) and the Kendrick Brothers (Alex and Stephen Kendricks) present the latest Christian faith-based features with the movie Overcomer. Does the film find inspiration or does it preach to the wrong choir?
John Harrison (Alex Kendrick) is a man of many things: a husband to his wife Amy (Shari Rigby), a father to his two sons, and a passionate high school basketball coach, who wants to win a state championship for the school during the upcoming season. Unfortunately, his dreams are dashed when he learns that the largest manufacturing plant in his small town closes down, cutting hundreds of jobs with many families and individuals of the community questioning what their futures will be without the large job employment opportunity. With many relocating elsewhere for employment and with the school’s resources depleting, John agrees to take a job as a cross-country coach…only to find out that the only person that shows up for tryouts is Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson), a young high school girl who has asthma. Discouraged and feeling out of sorts, John begins to train Hannah, warming up to the young girl’s determination and through a series of events that rattle not only his world but also Hannah’s life as well; finding the pair running to “overcome” their problems of identity and self-doubt.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Being a fan of cinematic storytelling (on all various platforms), I will admit that I do find some of the faith-based movies, especially those of the Christian religious aspects and overtones. These productions usually do find a certain rhythm / standard within both its presentation and storytelling; crafting a narrative that speaks to a person’s faith (whether challenging their own or going against society’s perception) that usually involves various trials and tribulations that’s wrapped up in an inspirational journey. As stated, these movies can be a little selective in its viewership (mostly of the Christian faith) as well as being a bit …how to say…cheesy and bit more “preachy” in trying to convey its thematic message across in a theatrical arena. That being said, some recent faith-based movies have proven to be effective; evolving beyond some of the conventional boundaries like The Shack, Indivisible, and I Can Only Imagine in being entertaining as well as projecting its message across to its viewers.
Overcomer is the latest 2019 feature film that offers a cinematic story unfold within the drama aspects of a faith-based motif and nuances. While I really didn’t hear much about this movie during its production (via online and / or social media), I did hear about this movie almost a year ago, with the movie releasing its first trailer in theaters (I think I saw it first when 2018’s Indivisible). The trailer definitely looked like a “faith-based movie” and yes (I’ll admit) I was a bit intrigued by it. I did, however, partly forget about it as a lot of summer movies releases of 2019 were rolling out. It was until a few weeks ago that I saw another movie trailer for Overcomer; indicating that the feature was gonna come out sometime soon. So, I went to check it out at a nearby theater (the theater close to me wasn’t showing it) hoping to be entertained and somehow enlightened by its story. What did I think of it? Well, I have to admit that I though it was pretty good. There were some problematic areas that I draw criticism on, but Overcomer succeeds as a respectable faith-based drama. It’s not the greatest and fall into some stereotypical tropes, but finds a wholesome and inspirational value within its cinematic undertaking and execution.
Overcomer is directed by Alex Kendrick, who is the second half of the Kendrick Brothers (Alex and his brother Stephen Kendrick). The Kendrick Brothers are definitely the leading providers / creators of religious faith-based movies, with such feature projects like Fireproof, Courageous, and War Room. Overcomer is their sixth feature film project of this variety and it definitely shows, with Alex Kendrick framing the feature with enough emotional sensibility and theatrical dramatics for their storytelling. Both him and Stephen have keen sense of what their target audience and it shows throughout the movie; finding a certain rhythm in the presentation of the feature’s nuances of comedy, drama, and religious aspects. With Alex, he certain crafts the movie into a wholesome piece by showcasing the plight of the feature’s two main protagonist characters of Jim Harrison and Hannah Scott and depicting the cinematic tale within a respectable light of pleasantry and entertainment.
While Alex handles the directing / shaping of the movie, Stephen Kendrick finds the feature’s narrative as the screenplay writer for Overcomer. The script does feature the classic faith-based drama tropes (more on that below), but the actually story being told is still quite compelling and certainly does speak within the good nature appeal of humanity and inner emotional. Plus, the film does delve into certain moments that do speak volumes…. most notably in the somewhat “fake gratitude” of “praying for someone”, but actually not doing it. It’s within this particular scene of events where it particular hits the character the hardest (a sudden moment of revelation and clarity) and will surely speak some of the movie’s viewers; hinting at those who actually do something (actually praying for someone or a group of individuals) or just simply saying it in passing and actually not following through with it. Additionally, the film’s script does talk about the hardship of the changing of the economy (falling on hard times and making decisions effect countless people and families). It’s not the most instrumental piece of Overcomer, but its definitely something that can affect all (including non-faith believers). Naturally, the movie’s core story takes shape and certainly finds its inspirational message within the film, which is found within relationships of families (as well as the ones we come across within our lives) and within the inner struggle that each of us must face. Perhaps the most important question that movie ask….who you are and what defines you as an individual, which is very poignant and meaningful to literally everyone out there; regardless of sex, religion, creed, or gender. This, along with directions, makes Overcomer poignant and meaningful, with the Kendrick Brothers handling the material with respect and within the human condition of determination, forgiveness, and enlightening moments through adversity and hardship. So, just a fair warning, there are plenty of “tear jerker” moments in the movie, but that’s a good thing as they feel more organic than manufactured.
The overall production / presentation of Overcomer is pretty good. Granted, the movie doesn’t really boast expansive sets and locations (nor does the film focuses on them), but what’s presented gets the job done, with the background setting primarily showcasing a small town in the heartland of the US (a sort small Midwest town of classic suburbia). Given the film’s limited / low production budget, I think the feature’s setting pieces and other nuances (set decorations, costumes and cinematography) all definitely are, while not the best, well-utilized in the feature. Naturally, the movie does have several contemporary Christian-esque songs scattered throughout the movie, including Casting Crowns’s “Even When You’re Running”, Tenth Avenue North’s “Control (Somehow You Want Me)”, Mandisa’s “Overcomer”. Additionally, the movie’s score, which was done by Paul Mills, is actually pretty good; providing plenty of melodic pieces throughout the film; ranging from soft tender moments (between characters) to rousing uplifting / inspirational ones.
Problems do arise with Overcomer, which do hold the feature back from reaching cinematic greatness within its subgenre category. Perhaps the most and the one that many out there will criticize is in the feature’s overall religious tones. It goes without saying that a film like this will undoubtedly wear its Christian overtones on its sleeve, with the film presenting them throughout the movie’s runtime. It’s something that goes “hand in hand” with the story and in the audience that the movie caters. Thus, as with a lot of other Christian faith-based movies, Overcomer definitely has its moments where it can be a bit “preachy” within its context. Thus, the film’s appeal and (in general likeability) might lean towards those of the Christian faith, making Indivisible’s viewing experience limited to the masses of causal moviegoers. I’m not saying that the movie is bad or anything like that as it is actually one of the better Christian-based movies out there (of late), but you know what I mean.
Looking beyond that point, the film’s first act is a bit sluggish. There’s definitely something to watch and see within this part of the movie, but it’s bit “sluggish” and meanders threw a series of subplots that feel a bit inconclusive and / or pointless to the greater narrative of the feature. In truth, Overcomer does take a little bit to actual get to the main plot of the story, so the movie doesn’t get into its “main groove” until very late into the first act (roughly a half-hour or more into the feature). There’s also a certain level of predictably that both the script and movie’s directions take, following classic narrative / plot progressions within the feature and makes easy to spot (before it comes) on where the movie is heading and where it will ultimately end on. It’s no so much a deal-breaker as the movie’s journey is good and compelling to somewhat overlook it, but there were no really big surprises or twists within the story (almost a bit conventional for a faith-based endeavor). Additionally, the movie does have a few characters to be the classic tropes of a faith-based drama, which makes their respective characters a bit generic / stock-like characters rather than solid supporting roles. However, in the end, they get the job done…. for better or worse.
Perhaps my biggest about the movie is that the movie is a bit unbalanced within certain things. Like I mentioned, the first act is a bit slow, but primarily focus on the character of Jim Harrison (and what he’s going through), while the second and third act shifts to focus on Hannah Scott. It’s not a terrible thing as both characters are well-created (from a script standpoint) as well as the acting talents behind them, but it seems like the Kendrick brothers had a hard time to decide on what character to focus on in Overcomer. This is also shared in the cross-country racing aspect of the movie. Yes, it’s presented in the movie and does play a part in the main story, but it seems more of secondary one. I did kind of want to see more of the racing nuances in the film; showcasing the competition, endurance, and overall training of it all. The movie just simply skims over these certain aspects, despite being a main component of the story.
The cast in Overcomer, despite not boasting a grouping of recognizable acting talents, does do a solid job in their respective roles; each one projecting enough emotion or character-esque moments for most of them to shine (or to have their “moment in the spotlight) in the movie. Naturally (and kind of surprising), the film’s director Alex Kendrick pulls off a wholesome performance in his portrayal of fictional character Jim Harrison. While this isn’t the first time that he’s acted in one of his movies, Kendrick certainly delivers a quality acting performance as the character of Jim. The story certainly makes him a very likeable character by wearing many different “hats” in the movie as a loving husband, a caring father, a strong high school coach, and a man of faith who wants to do the right thing. Thus, Kendrick does fall inline with all those facets of Jim’s personality and molds. In a nutshell, while he probably won’t get any type of award nominations for this, Kendrick’s Jim Harrison fits the perfect Midwest dad persona and really good job. Plus, he actually does a humorous job in playing up some of the comedy bits throughout the movie as well as some of the heavy drama moments as well. Behind Jim is (of course) his wife Amy Harrison, who is played by actress Shari Rigby (Wildflower and October Baby). While the character isn’t exactly new or original (playing up the classic tropes of a loving / supporting wife), Rigby does provide a certain warmth to Amy and certain finds her place as Jim’s figurative “rock” within their marriage / partnership with each other.
Next, the characters of Hannah Scott and Thomas Hill, the individuals that come into Jim Harrison’s life unexpectedly, are definitely the emotional core pieces of Overcomer’s narrative and are certainly acted well by actress Aryn Wright-Thompson (making her acting debut with the movie) and actor Cameron Arnett (Stand Your Ground and Champion). The character of Hannah Scott starts out as a quiet individual (a sort of mystery behind her) at the film’s beginning, but the character does grow a lot, becoming the more palpable of the feature’s two leads (her and Jim) and certainly does provide growth and warmth by the time the feature ends, with Wright-Thompson’s given a subtle yet solid performance in the role. Likewise, the character of Thomas Hill does have enough emotional weight and character backstory that’s a lot of cinematic weight behind it, which leads up to plenty of the feature’s emotional scenes, with Arnett delivering a strong performance whenever he’s on-screen.
Rounding out the rest of the cast is actress Priscilla C. Shirer (War Room and I Can Only Imagine) as mentor to Hannah Scott / high school principal Olivia Brooks, actress Denise Armstrong (Ernie and Cerbie and The Cardinal Rule) as Hannah’s grandmother Barbara Scott, and actor Jack Sterner (who makes his debut with this movie) as Ethan Harrison (the eldest son to Jim and Amy). These characters are good and definitely get the job done. Although, each one does feel a bit “generic” in the commonplace usage of character tropes within a Christian faith-based movie. I won’t spoil what they represent, but just feel a bit like stock-like ones. Still, the acting talents behind them do deliver in making them slightly more elevated characters than some other endeavors.
A tale of hardship, revelations, and determination as characters Jim Harrison and Hannah Scott find the courage within themselves in the movie Overcomer. The Kendrick Brothers latest project finds their stride within a story of identity, challenges, and never giving up. While the movie does a few problem areas in its pacing and predictability, it does make for a solid faith-based feature that ultimately works in what it wants to say and visually tell; capturing an inspiration within its cinematic presentation and in the acting talents that play a part in it. Personally, I thought this movie was pretty good. Like I said, there were a couple of parts that went a little preachy and certain aspects of the story didn’t get quite fleshed out, but I did find the feature’s narrative wholesome and the acting in the movie was solid. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is both a “recommended”, especially for those of the Christian faith or fans of faith-based motion pictures. In the end, Overcomer finds a satisfying cinematic medium with its thematic appeal and religious story overtones. It probably won’t win over non-fans of the faithful drama movies, but those who love and appreciate these types of endeavors, it’s definitely a film to check out and (to those individuals) will find an uplifting / inspirational narrative to follow.
3.8 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: August 23rd, 2019
Reviewed On: August 26th, 2019
Overcomer is 119 minutes long and is rated PG for some thematic elements