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THE LAST WORD: ‘Overcomer’ is Christian movie with a message: Define your identity

Kerry Hubartt

Four years ago I wrote in this column about Christian films following the release of a Kendrick brothers production called “War Room.”

I pointed out that an earlier film called “Fireproof” (2008), directed by Alex Kendrick, who co-wrote and co-produced it with his brother Stephen, had ignited a run of films in that genre, including more by the Kendrick brothers. Though produced on modest budgets and released to a limited number of theaters, the movies reflected a continually improving quality of script and cinematography, peaking with “War Room” in 2015.

The latest Kendrick brothers production was released by Sony Pictures on Aug. 23 and is still playing in Fort Wayne theaters.

“Overcomer” was still holding strong at the box office going into its fourth weekend Saturday and Sunday. It finished No. 6 the previous weekend with about $3.75 million at the box office. Its opening weekend, when I saw the movie, netted $8.2 million on just 1,723 screens across the U.S., according to CBN News. Box Office Mojo reported the film brought in just under $25 million in three weeks, while it was made with a modest $5 million budget. “War Room” had a $3 million budget.

The film is about a high school basketball coach, John Harrison (director Alex Kendrick), whose championship aspirations are ruined when his town’s largest manufacturing plant closes down and hundreds of families move away.

He is asked by the school principal to coach cross country and ends up with only one sophomore girl, Hannah Scott, on his team — and she has asthma. The girl lived with her grandmother, who told her both her parents died because of drugs after she was born.

The film’s theme develops when Hannah’s coach meets a blind diabetes patient in the local hospital and discovers he is Hannah’s father. Once a drug addict, now a Christian, Thomas Hill becomes a bedridden spiritual mentor to Coach Harrison, is reunited with his daughter and becomes her spiritual and running mentor in a fascinating sequence near the end of the film.

Some secular critics, such as Mark Dujsik on RogerEbert.com, are not kind to the efforts of brothers Alex and Stephen Kendrick in their sixth film.

So keep Alex Kendrick’s perspective in focus: “Our primary [purpose in making films] is to help people who already know Christ to continue growing and live out their faith. But there is truth in our movies that will bleed over into secular audiences as well. Many people that watch our films are impacted by the messages, even if they don’t share our faith. We can make a movie, but only God can change the heart.”

The theme of the movie is finding one’s identity. Hill helps Harrison discern the difference between being identified as a basketball coach, or father or anything else that falls ahead of his identity as a follower of Christ. Hannah, too, becomes enlightened by her own discovery of identity in her relationship to Christ in the midst of the turmoil of her secret sins, her love of running and the revelation of a father she thought was dead.

Kendrick explained the theme this way: “Our culture wants to say identity is what you feel, or what culture says about you, or some status, job status, financial status … [a]nd all those things can change. So, who are you when what you are known for is stripped away?”

That question made me think of the decision by Andrew Luck to retire as quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts the same weekend “Overcomer” hit the theaters. While the movie character Harrison had to reevaluate his identity as a basketball coach due to circumstances that stripped his team down to nothing, Luck likewise had to make the same kind of evaluation of his identity as a pro football player.

“For the last four years or so,” Luck said on Aug. 24 after the Colts’ preseason game against the Chicago Bears, “I’ve been in this cycle of injury, pain, rehab – injury, pain, rehab – and it’s been unceasing, unrelenting, both in-season and offseason. And I felt stuck in it, and the only way I see out is to no longer play football. It’s taken my joy of this game away.”

The choice he made was that his identity, however he defines it, was not just pro football player — he’s also a husband and soon-to-be father. He turned 30 on Thursday, he was married in March and he and his wife Nicole are expecting their first child.

The meaning of identity was explained in “Overcomer” by Hill when Coach Harrison first defined his own as basketball coach. Hill asked him what it would be if that identity were stripped away. For Harrison, it came down to “Christian.” Ultimately, Kendrick says, our identity is what we are when all these labels and roles disappear, and for a Christian, that identity is just that — a follower of Christ.

Kerry Hubartt is former editor of The News-Sentinel.

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