Faith-based films have been making a comeback since Mel Gibson directed “Passion of the Christ” back in 2004. While some of these films have been over-the-top proselytizing, some have managed to show rather than tell what it means to be disciples of Christ in our day and age through compelling stories. “Overcomer” is an example of the latter.
This latest film project by the Kendrick Brothers (War Room, Courageous, Fireproof), “Overcomer” bridges the generations in a story about Hannah Scott (Aryn Wright-Thompson), a teen who rises above all life throws at her to become a cross-country runner for her high school. Ah, but she’s so much more than that.
John Harrison (Alex Kendrick) coaches the basketball team at Brookshire Christian School but the closing of a major employer forces the families of many of his players to move. Left with no team, principal Olivia Brooks (Priscilla Shirer – a familiar face from other faith-based films) asks John to coach the cross-country team. On the day of tryouts, only one student shows: Hannah. And guess what? She has asthma. When John complains to Olivia that it doesn’t make sense to have a team with only one member, Olivia reminds him that “one runner matters.”
While volunteering at the local hospital, John encounters Thomas Hill (Cameron Arnett) pretty much by accident. Diabetes took Thomas’s sight and as he and John talk, Thomas reveals he used to be a runner in his younger days. Delighted, John asks Thomas for coaching tips for his cross-country team of one.
Hannah’s got a pretty bleak background. Her parents are dead from drug overdoses and she’s been raised by her grandma, Barbara Scott (Denise Armstrong), a strong woman working two jobs just to make ends meet. Hannah’s a petty thief and she hides a box in her drawer with the stolen items. During training, Coach Harrison asks her, “Who is Hannah Scott?” and she doesn’t know how to answer.
Aryn Wright-Thompson in "Overcomer" (Affirm Films)
Through unexpected twists and turns, “Overcomer” does a good job at showing what it means to trust God in difficult circumstances and what it means to embrace identity as a follower of Jesus. The film’s central question, “What do you allow to define you?” grabs hold of each character as they try to find their way through the complications of life.
The film lags at the beginning as the Kendrick’s take their time establishing the main characters. However, once they allow the audience to begin making connections, the story gains its legs (pun definitely intended!). Some parts are a bit unrealistic, too. John and his wife, Amy (Shari Rigby), have two boys who seem to be model siblings, the older looking after the younger with sibling rivalry nowhere to be found.
Still, there is someone for everyone to identify with in this film. Married couples, parents, kids, teens, grandparents are all represented. Their struggles are not so different from our own if we are honest with ourselves. When Thomas asks John how he describes himself, he quickly answers, “I’m a basketball coach.” John’s identity as a Christian was pretty far down on the list. As John reflects on his talks with Thomas, he begins to open the door to God’s grace and action in his life. Look for outward signs of John’s journey in the changes in his school athletic attire.
The title of the film comes from the First Letter of John, chapter five, verse five: Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God (NIV). We all have something to overcome in our lives and while there are no magic answers to life’s problems and difficulties, Jesus came to save us. Just as Jesus handed himself to God on the cross out of love for us, handing our trials over into the same loving hands of God can bring us the greatest peace. As disciples, we are all overcomers.
If this theme resonates with you, check out the inspiring music video from Mandisa featuring the song that plays over the credits of “Overcomer.” Click here.
About the Author
Sister Hosea Rupprecht is a member of the Daughters of St. Paul, a religious community dedicated to evangelization with the media. She holds a Master of Theological Studies degree from the University of St. Michael’s College in Toronto and an MA in Media Literacy from Webster University in St. Louis.
Sr. Hosea is director of the East Coast office of the Pauline Center for Media Studies, based in Staten Island, NY, and speaks on media literacy and faith to catechists, parents, youth, and young adults. Together with Father Chip Hines, she is the co-host of Searchlight, a Catholic movie review show on Catholic TV. Sr. Hosea is the author of How to Watch Movies with Kids: A Values-Based Strategy, released by Pauline Books & Media.
For the past 15 years, she has facilitated various film dialogues for both children and adults, as well as given presentations on integrating culture, faith and media.