'4 Minute Mile' signals the fast rise of star Kelly Blatz

Kelly Blatz's fine performance in '4 Minute Mile' recalls Timothy Hutton in 'Ordinary People'

Though it has its formulaic elements, "4 Minute Mile" is a finely written and directed sports drama with a lead performance by rising star Kelly Blatz so deep and affecting it often evokes Timothy Hutton's Oscar-winning turn in "Ordinary People."

Blatz plays Drew Jacobs, a high school senior living with bad-egg older brother Wes (Cam Gigandet) and shaky, widowed mother Claire (Kim Basinger). Life is tense for Drew: He's forced to deliver drug payments for the deadbeat Wes, Mom is perpetually overwhelmed, money is scarce and college seems like a pipe dream. Issues also abound on the school track team, where the tightly wound Drew proves he could be a great runner, if he could only get out of his own way.

At an impasse, Drew turns to ex-track coach Coleman (a superb Richard Jenkins), his cranky, lonely neighbor who, not uncoincidentally, once held the record for running the four-minute mile. Coleman's got demons of his own, so, like Drew, he's no day at the beach. But the guy knows running — and runners — and, in take-no-prisoners style, begins to train Drew to win an all-state track meet that could lead to a college scholarship.

There are complications, largely of the emotional kind, as Drew and Coleman learn to trust each other amid an ever-tenuous dynamic. Their relationship is drawn by writers Josh Campbell and Jeff Van Wie with such skill and credibility it's occasionally heartbreaking; Coleman's flinty dialogue is especially well-crafted.

Director Charles-Olivier Michaud deftly manages his ace cast, which also includes Analeigh Tipton as Drew's romantic interest and Rhys Coiro as a harsh drug dealer, while also creating a richly absorbing mood and pace. There's also an excellent use of the scenic Seattle locations, particularly during Drew's rousing running and training sequences. It's a terrific little film worthy of discovery.

"4 Minute Mile."

MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material involving violence, drinking and drugs, and for smoking and some language.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.

At Sundance Sunset Cinemas, West Hollywood. Also on VOD.

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