Here’s a heartfelt sports drama from Jamaica made in the traditional style, about a teenage athlete who dreams of using his blistering talent to give his family a better life. Does the kid have sufficient grit to make it to the finish line?
Sprinter is a movie that leaves virtually no sporting cliche unbothered, yet it’s rooted in a naturalistic, emotional family drama reflecting the specific pleasures and perils of life in Jamaica. Storm Saulter directs with energy and style, with Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith as executive producers.
Dale Elliott plays Akeem, an exceptional 200-metre sprinter. A warm, easygoing kid, he’s nicknamed the Rasta Rocket and is already a national hero. But family problems are distracting him. Akeem’s mum (Lorraine Toussaint from Orange Is the New Black) has been working illegally in the US for a decade. His dad (Dennis Titus) is lonely, worn out from raising two sons alone, and drinking heavily. Akeem’s older brother Germaine (Kadeem Wilson) is living proof of the dangers of trusting in sport as a ticket out. Once a hot favourite 400- metre runner, Germaine picked up an injury. Now he’s a working for a local gangster.
For a film about an athlete, Sprinter dawdles to a finish, as Akeem struggles with concentration ahead of a make-or-break race. Still, it’s impossible not to root for this movie. Newcomer Elliott is such an open presence, and the stakes for Akeem, and other explosively talented kids like him, are so high.
Jamaica has been unveiled as a major location in the new Bond film, but let’s have more films about Jamaican people living their lives, please.
• Sprinter is released in the UK on 6 September.