Since their third feature film Facing the Giants won over moviegoers in 2006 and snagged a $10.1 million box-office against its $100,000 production budget, the sibling duo of Alex and Stephen Kendrick have, despite the massive growth of the Christian filmmaking industry, continued to lay claim to faith-based filmmaking's cinematic mountaintop.
The Kendricks, who started their moviemaking ministry out of their home church of Sherwood Baptist Church, have never lost money on a film largely due to fiscal responsibility, wise stewardship of resources, and their continued ability to tap into the heart n' soul of Christian moviegoing audiences. The Kirk Cameron led Fireproof snagged a box-office of over $33 million on a $500,000 budget, Courageous topped $34 million on a $1 million budget, and their last film, War Room, soared to nearly $68 million on a $3 million budget.
So, yeah. The Kendrick Brothers got it goin' on.
Overcomer arrives with their loftiest production budget yet at $5 million, a production budget that shows throughout the film with their ever improving production values, pristine lensing, and precise editorial work. While $5 million continues to be modest by Hollywood's standards, the Kendricks make the most of it and turn out one of their most satisfying films yet with Overcomer.
Kendrick seems to act in just about every other film that he makes. While he's far from a seasoned actor and I wouldn't dare say he has magnificent range, the scripts that he co-writes with brother Stephen seem to understand his strengths and limitations and he's fairly sublime within his range. Kendrick possesses a natural authenticity about himself on the big screen. You can't help but think that there's a core of Alex Kendrick in his characters, though it never quite feels like he's playing himself.
Here, Kendrick is playing a high school basketball coach named John Harrison, a confident winner of a coach whose life goes into upheaval when his team loses the state championship and the small town where his high school is located loses one of its largest employers causing a mass exodus of families including key coaches and his team's players. With few options, he reluctantly agrees to take on the school's cross country team, though it's an equally troubled team with only one runner.
That one runner? A troubled teenager named Hannah (Aryn Wright-Thompson) with a history of easily finding trouble and a health issue, asthma, that isn't exactly ideal for runners.
If you've ever seen a faith-based film, especially a Kendrick Brothers film, then you already know, at least for the most part, where Overcomer is going. It's safe to say that pretty much every film from the Kendrick Brothers has, at its core, a crisis of faith and a lesson to learn. The same is true here...for both Hannah and Coach Harrison. The troubled teen struggles with feeling unwanted and as a misfit, a girl growing up under the strict guidance of a grandmother who works two jobs just to keep the household afloat. Hannah's crisis isn't just of faith but of life, yet running becomes a sort of sanctuary for her and it's something that she ends up being incredibly good at doing. Under the nurturing mentorship of her school's principal, played by Kendrick vet Priscilla Shirer, Hannah will, well, I suppose you know the title of the film.
Over the past few years, the faith-based film industry, especially Christian film industry, has grown monumentally in terms of both popularity and actual production quality. While you can still easily find almost laughably bad faith-based cinema, the Kendrick Brothers have now been putting out quality motion pictures for over 10 years and have yet to register a true miss with one of their films. While their films are absolutely, 100% Christian films and unapologetically so in terms of both teaching and preaching faith and prayer, they're also made with wider audiences in mind and they deliver their message with more heart than hammer.
If you've never appreciated a Kendrick Brothers film, Overcomer isn't likely to be the one to persuade you. However, it's a film that shares a cinematic heartbeat with Facing the Giants and could easily have some crossover appeal that could broaden its box-office potential.
Kendrick is a winning actor as always here, while Aryn Wright-Thompson offers an appealing film debut as Hannah and Priscilla Shirer impresses in all the ways we've come to expect from Shirer.
While Overcomer is largely immersed in prayer and Christian faith as that which will allow us to endure our seasons of hardship and life challenges, the film understands that sometimes that faith manifests for us through a person, a place, a thing, or even an activity that brings us closer to our God and our faith.
While there's never been a Kendrick film that I didn't embrace, possible exception being Fireproof, Overcomer easily rests alongside Facing the Giants as one of their most appealing, genuinely entertaining, and heartfelt efforts to date. Overcomer opens nationwide in theaters on August 23rd, 2019.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic