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.