'Sprinter' (2019) Review: Goes For Gold
For many reviewers, talking about independent films is a bit of a struggle. Often times, they aren’t as polished as your typical cinema fare. That’s either a result of a next to nothing budget, or startling inexperience of the filmmakers. Yet despite their shortcomings, these films are the ones delivered with the utmost care. It’s a welcome break from a summer of mass produced cgi extravaganzas, and sometimes, they’re just as impressive as their big blockbuster brothers. That’s definitely the case with ‘Sprinter’, a wildly successful award winning effort from director Storm Saulter.
The movie follows the life of young high schooler Akeem Sharpe. Jamaican. Teenager. Track star. He’s a young man of many labels but he’s still not sure which one best describes him. He’s on a bit of a journey of self discovery when he suddenly beats the 200m high school track record and is set off on a course for super stardom. With the help of his estranged brother, a former runner himself, and his unemployed father, who frequents the company of both Wray and his nephew, Akeem will have to discover what it means to be Akeem, before it’s too late to turn back. All while giving Tom Cruise a run for his money for actual running on screen.
Though ‘Sprinter’ is indeed an entertaining film, it is strikingly similar to things seen before. It has all the trappings of your typical sports film, complete with the snarling coach and the surprise visit from the real life sports icon. In fact, the well versed film fan won’t have a hard time coming up with the story beats before the movie does. However, just as Akeem figures out who he is, so too does the film. It manages to take a story told before and make it it’s very own. With rich storied characters that feel genuine, and a location rife with culture.
It’s of course helped by its impressive cast. The movie does the unheard of thing and hires Jamaican actors to play Jamaicans. Dale Elliot carries most of the film in the starring role, and wonderfully brings you to understand his point of view. The character has several states to play in the film. Insecure, but also arrogant. Sensitive, while still a badman. Excited, yet anxious. The film throws a lot at him, but never once does he break. His consistency does wonders to sell the immersion of the film, and Akeem’s plight.
Perhaps most impressive is Akeem’s brother Germaine, played by Kadeem Wilson. The character is about as complex as they come in a story like this. It’s through Germaine that the film takes a look at lottery scamming, a very real criminal epidemic in Jamaica. In fact, the film drops little snippets here and there of what Germaine’s story has been, that you wouldn’t mind seeing more of it. Especially when he’s played as well as he is by Wilson.
The same can be said for Shantol Jackson’s Kerry. Akeem’s track teammate who arguably has a rougher life than Akeem, yet still remains steadfast. The characters themselves are infinitely interesting, and the actors do them justice. You leave the cinema not quite finished with the world of ‘Sprinter’ and hope that one day you might see some of those characters again.
In truth, that is the beauty of ‘Sprinter’. It takes plot lines that are very well regarded as tropes, yet creates interesting characters and situations that makes for an extremely compelling picture. All while being nothing short of stunning. The filmmakers take an island paradise and make it feel grounded and mythical all at the same time. So many of the shots give a feeling of expansion. As if to say there’s so much room for Akeem to grow. It’s a synergy of making shots that look pretty while also using them to further the story.
There are some issues with the film though. As the title suggests, the film has a rushed beginning, one that it thankfully slows down from for the second act. And as much as ‘Sprinter’ does to combat its unoriginal story, it does fall into some of the trappings of the genre. Particularly near the end with a conclusion that almost seems obligatory. Especially with the inclusion of Bryshere Y. Gray’s Marcus Brick. Who comes in as an antagonistic plot device rather than a fully fledged character.
When I think of ‘Sprinter’ I think of its beautiful cinematography. I think of the stories for its characters that were relatable and compelling. I think of the music that never overstayed its welcome and gave the movie the momentum it needed at just the right moments. It’s not a perfect film, but it’s an entertaining, thoughtful, and thought provoking one. One that ought to be seen on the big screen.
Rating: Big Screen Watch