Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. - 1 Corinthians 9:24
In writer/director Kim Bass's Tyson's Run, 15-year-old Tyson (Major Dodson) is growing up in the shadow of his father, Bobby Hollerman (Rory Cochrane), a smalltown legendary football coach whose own dreams of NFL stardom were shattered by an injury and whose hopes for a son with whom he could live vicariously are equally shattered when Tyson is diagnosed with autism. Homeschooled for his entire life by his devoted mother, Eleanor (Amy Smart), Tyson has reached the point academically where he can no longer learn the things he needs to know from his mother and he begins seeking permission to enter the town's public high school where his father also works.
While Tyson is unquestionably smart enough for high school, he's ill-equipped for the social demands and quickly begins to struggle socially and with bullying. After meeting Aklilu (Barkhad Abdi), the owner of a local running store with his own skeletons in his sports closet, Tyson determines that running the upcoming Stanbridge International Marathon will earn him the approval he craves from his father if he can only get past a resistant mayor (Reno Wilson) and the myriad of naysayers who say it can't possibly be done.
This current release from Collide Distribution is exactly what you expect it to be - a faith-based inspirational sports flick about running the good race, persevering, keeping the faith, and having the courage to take that first step.
An actor with autism himself, 18-year-old Major Dodson (The Walking Dead, American Horror Story) has been acting since the age of six and intuitively manages to play Tyson without the usual quirks and easy caricatures. While Dodson does lean into the social awkwardness a bit heavily at times, he has a natural quality about him that draws you in and helps you understand how autism impacts daily life and also how a young man like Tyson is able to adapt and persevere. While some will be a tad uncomfortable with Dodson's performance, that's really part of the point.
The other really strong performance here comes from Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated Barkhad Abdi (Captain Phillips), who manages to add nuances here that are not evident in Bass's script that ultimately portrays autism inaccurately, and I say this as a film journalist who works in the field of autism professionally, and at times has giggle-inducing dialogue during times when it should be emotionally resonant.
This is a different type of role for Rory Cochrane (Black Mass, Argo) and it's fun to watch him stretch even though the script really doesn't do him many favors. The film is ultimately focused for the most part on this father-son relationship and Cochrane's transformation over the course of the film may not feel authentically manifested within the script but it's still a nice performance by Cochrane as he returns to a commitment he made to his son when he was a baby.
Finally, there's Amy Smart. It's always lovely to see the under-appreciated Smart and she's quite heartwarming as the mother who does everything she can to empower her son.
There's never any doubt that Tyson's Run is a faith-based film, though it avoids for the most being being overly preachy in favor of leaning into a more lived in faith. Those who embrace faith-based cinema and those who can appreciate films around the subject of living well with a disability will enjoy this ultimately feel-good flick that is rated PG but for the most part friendly to the entire family.
Four-time Grammy Award-winning gospel singer Yolanda Adams recorded the original song If You Believe specifically for the film and it complements it quite wonderfully.
While it's unlikely that Tyson's Run will win any converts to faith-based cinema, sometimes you just want to watch a film that makes you feel better about life and the world around us and you're not so worried about cinematic perfection. Tyson's Run is a feel-good film and that's exactly what it's meant to be.
Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic