TMN Movie Review: "4 Minute Mile"

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A former track coach decides to train a student with natural athletic talent. Tragedy strikes right before the biggest race of his life, forcing him to confront everything that has been holding him back.
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Rating: PG-13
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: June 5, 2014
Directed by: Charles-Olivier Michaud
Genre: Drama

Inspirational dramas centered around budding athletes have always been popular with audiences, and "4 Minute Mile" is no exception. Like many movies in this genre, "4 Minute Mile" is built on the rocky relationship between a promising young athlete and his rough-around-the-edges coach, but there's a plot element present in this film that is surprisingly serious for a story with an otherwise hopeful tone.

Drew Jacobs is a promising high school track star with a not-so-promising family life. He's one of the fastest runners in town, a gift that has been exploited by his older brother, Wes, for a long time. Wes uses Drew as a drug courier to help their family pay the bills, and his drug supplier is a vicious man. Drew loves his family so much that the danger hardly matters to him, but his real dream is to earn a college scholarship and make his family's life better in a more ethical and legal way.

Drew's high-stress life doesn't do him any favors as far as his people skills go, and he doesn't get along with his coach. He especially doesn't get along with his number one rival, and he eventually quits the team after a scuffle. It looks like Coleman, a retired runner who is practically Drew's next-door neighbor, is the teenager's only hope. Coleman happens to hold the entire state's high school record for running a 4-minute mile, and he decides to take Drew under his wing when he sees the teenager's incredible natural gift. Coleman lost his son to a tragic car accident, and the man's passion for coaching died with him, but Drew stirs up long-forgotten emotions in the gruff ex-coach.

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Richard Jenkins, who portrays Coleman, is the real star of the show. The actor's screen presence is just as commanding as it was in films like "Wolf," "Jack Reacher" and "The Cabin in the Woods." Coleman is a deep character and sets the bar high for other coaches in inspirational sports films. Initially, it seems that the loss of his son has left him a shell of the man he used to be, but his fatherly relationship with Drew cracks his cold exterior and shows a heart of gold beneath. The same can be said for Drew, portrayed by Kelly Blatz of television series "Aaron Stone" fame.

Drew doesn't have such a kind exterior either, and his personality is often just as abrasive as Coleman's due to the stressful and uncertain life he has suffered through. As Coleman's harshness softens, Drew undergoes his own transformation into a responsible and passionate young man who pours his negative energy into his performances at the track. Both Blatz and Jenkins give compelling performances that keep audiences on their seats, hoping for the best for their surprisingly deep characters.

Unlike most inspirational sports films, "4 Minute Mile" portrays an athlete rising against the odds in a gritty, tragic way. In spite of its hopeful tone, this is not your typical feel-good fairy tale. Drew is a truly troubled teenager, and coach Coleman is equally troubled. These characters are difficult to love at first, but it's impossible not to grow attached to them as their pasts are revealed.

"4 Minute Mile" is loaded with drama, both on and off the track. Coleman and Drew have a somewhat rocky friendship at first, and there are times when it seems all hope is lost due to Drew's somewhat aggressive personality or Coleman's struggle with alcoholism. As Drew's ability as an athlete accelerates, so does his illegal career as a drug courier. His scholarship isn't the only thing he has to lose. Drew's life is in jeopardy as well. If he doesn't win the race against his rival, it could mean his life will be many decades shorter.

The soundtrack adds to the film's uniqueness. The songs chosen for this film are all written by independent artists, many of whom were underdogs themselves, lending a heartfelt tone to the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking scenes present in "4 Minute Mile." At one point, one of the few people Drew loves is shot and killed, bringing the hardened teenager to his emotional breaking point accompanied by one of the film's strongest songs.

In a sea of inspirational movies, "4 Minute Mile" stands out from the others thanks to its sometimes shockingly realistic portrayal of what life is really like for a teenager born into a bad situation who's desperate to turn things around. This is one sports film that's sure to stay in the hearts of audiences for years to come.