When it comes to sports movies, they are hard to tackle because you have to be careful of all of the cliches that can arise. You have hundreds of movies and at least a hundred years of the sports themselves to provide all the material you need to deep six a film about one. When I think of hockey, I can’t help but to think of Slap Shot. When I think of basketball (as an Indiana native, I guess we do this a lot), I can’t help but to think of Hoosiers. These films exist without cliche, exemplify the best a movie can be about the sport depicted in it and toe the very thin line between pulling all of the drama and comedy out of the sport possible without becoming overwrought and melodramatic. This is where most sports movies come off the rails. Does Charles-Olivier Michaud pull it off? Well, I guess you’ll have to read on, won’t you?
Drew (Kelly Blatz) is a stud high school runner with an attitude. He’s got a chip on his shoulder because his father died when he was young of a drug overdose and with his older brother Wes (Cam Gigandet) also mixed up in drugs, spending time in and out of jail, he has no father figure to keep him in check. Drew is mostly left to his own devices because his mother (Kim Basinger) has to work so much to make ends meet. Drew clashes with his teammates and his coach at his school and in typical fashion, quits the team. Despite this, he catches the eye of an old coach, Coleman (Richard Jenkins), who is interested in working with him, but only if Drew switches from his preferred 400-meter race to the mile.
At first, Drew refuses Coleman’s offer, but as his brother falls deeper into the drug trade, bringing Drew with him, he knows his only way out of the situation is to run. So he agrees to work with Coleman, who is the Mr. Miyagi to his Daniel-son (this is actually explicitly mentioned in the film). With a goal of the four minute mile, first achieved by Roger Bannister in 1954 (the current World Record is now 3:43.13 set in 1999 by Hicham El Guerrouj), the two train together in the unorthodox style that we’ve become accustomed to in many other sports movies flush with philosophy-laden speeches that cryptically give Drew all the answers to success. But as life and its many distractions swirl around Drew, his focus on running wavers and wanes as forces around him cause his focus to wander. Does it cost him?
Very few films precede 4 Minute Mile about running – Chariots of Fire, The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner and maybe Prefontaine are among those that are the widely regarded. Sure you can throw Marathon Man in there, but it’s really a film about torture, right? Run Lola Run as well, but it’s really a relationship film, the running is ancillary, so 4 Minute Mile really isn’t running in a crowded field. So it seems like a perfect time to capitalize on a new angle, yes? Unfortunately, the film doesn’t quite close as well as it opens. Richard Jenkins gives us plenty as he usually does and is really the brightest spot of the film. I think that Kelly Blatz shows flashes that really captured me at various points, but also overplayed it more often than not. Several portions of the plot simply didn’t work – mostly the angle of Drew’s brother Wes playing in the drug trade and pulling him in. And while it pains me to say this, as I love her dearly, Kim Basinger‘s character and performance added nothing to the film at all with maybe the exception of being a enabler for Wes. And what might have been missing most was the buildup of Drew training over a period of time and us seeing his progress. It seemed like he leapt from quitting his high school team and running the 400 to a short sequence of him training with Coleman and running the mile at semi-state against a robotic, Shute-like (for you Vision Quest fans) adversary. If you’re going to invoke Mr. Miyagi, then give me Mr. Miyagi.
4 Minute Mile is a film that is likely to find an audience. It has plenty of familiar elements that many people enjoy watching. To me, they are a little played out and frankly, this story had potential. With a couple of different turns with the plot, the beefing up of a character or two, this film maybe gets a little more traction. 4 Minute Mile opens in theaters today, August 1 and is currently available on several different digital platforms.