“4 Minute Mile” is a small, low-budget movie that’s much better than it has a right to be, considering it could slip into cliche so easily. But thanks to solid performances and a steady hand from director Charles-Olivier Michaud and writers Josh Campbell and Jeff Van Wie, it’s a moving, if occasionally heavy-handed, sports drama that deserves a wider audience than it is probably going to find in its limited release.
An earnest Kelly Blatz (TV series “Glory Daze”) is Drew, a talented high-school track star with anger issues. Certainly, the kid living in a rundown Seattle neighborhood has a lot to be angry about: losing his dad at a young age, an older brother (Cam Gigandet, “Twilight”) whose only source of income is drug dealing, and a mom (Kim Basinger) who has given up on life. The only bright spot is his sorta-girlfriend Lisa (Analeigh Tipton, Lucy,” “Warm Bodies”).
When Drew quits the team after a fight with another runner, a former coach and neighbor (the always impressive Richard Jenkins from “The Visitor” and “Six Feet Under”) takes him under his wing. But Jenkins’ character, who lost his son many years ago, now walks with a limp, drinks far more than he should and has a lot of emotional healing to do himself.
How they help each other push through the pain gives “4 Minute Mile” its juice and sense of resonance. There are moments that echo a film like “Friday Night Lights.” Even the score from Stephen Barton channels the stark beauty of Explosions in the Sky, the group whose music informed that high-school-football drama.
Not everything works. Basinger’s character is hazily drawn at best, and there’s a certain predictability to the story arc. But it’s not enough to permanently hobble “4 Minute Mile.”