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Yelena Friedman, Maggie Alexander, Scott Lewis, Amanda Kristin Nichols, Tobin Cleary, Landan Cleary, Josiah Schneider
Mark Lewis
85 Mins.

 "Strider" Takes Mark Lewis a Different Direction  
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It's a fair statement to make that indie actress Maggie Alexander isn't yet a household name, though any doubts about her talent can be firmly resolved by checking out her two film appearances with writer/director Mark Lewis, Enthusiastic Sinners and this latest effort Strider. Alexander sizzled in Enthusiastic Sinners, as a smalltown widow whose 24-hour lust story turns into a love story. In Strider, however, Alexander plays Hannah Dalton, a disgraced track coach in similarly smalltown isolation who sees promise in the talented and troubled Jody (Yelena Friedman). Together, they both have something to prove and something to work for symbolized by participation in the East Coast's biggest track and field competition The Pinnacle Games. 

Because this is written and directed by Lewis, you can be sure that Strider will stretch beyond its potentially confining inspirational sports story roots. Oh sure, there's plenty of inspiration to be found here but Lewis digs deeper and the audience is better off for it. 

Friedman is making her feature film debut with Strider, a relative cinematic newbie who nicely captures the young girl's downtrodden vulnerability along with the confidence she finds running and the deeply personal reasons underneath that running. Friedman's promise as an actress is obvious and it's not surprising to see that 2020 also brought her multiple appearances in television's Verdict. 

Strider, which screened at the St. Louis International Film Festival among others during a pandemic-ravage fest season, seemingly understands that underneath every inspirational sports story there are real stories of hard work, heartache, success, failure, redemption, and life never quite going as we planned. Lewis's work here has tremendous integrity in giving us a story with which we connect and an ending we may not completely expect but probably should. 

While the movie's poster screams out cheesy faith-based flick, rest assured that while there's only a hint of lust to be found here Lewis does more than dabble in real emotions and real life experiences. Jody's growing up in the home of a doubting father (Scott Lewis) and a couple of bratty baby bros (Tobin and Landan Cleary) and she appears to be a practical outcast at home and in school. There are no magical solutions here and no easy answers. Strider keeps you guessing in a mostly gentle, thoughtful way that feels honest to its characters. Ultimately, the film soars on the strength of the chemistry between Alexander and Friedman. 

Lensing by Ryan Balas is solid as always, while Alec Balas edits the film for maximum emotional and inspirational effect. You can check out the film for yourself on Amazon Prime by clicking on the "Watch on Amazon" link or accessing your own Amazon Prime. 

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic  

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