A young Jamaican boy’s dreams of winning big on the racetrack are held in the balance as he tries to hold his unstable family together and rekindle his relationship with his absent mother.
Sprinter, directed by Storm Saulter, follows Akeem Sharp (Dale Elliot), a Jamaican teen with a passion for track-and-field who has been ‘racing’ to revive a connection with his mother Donna (Lorraine Toussaint), who left for the U.S. over ten years ago to help support her family. With only the occasional video call from his mother, Akeem instead lives with his alcoholic father (Dennis Titus) and his telephone-scamming older brother Germaine (Kadeem Wilson), who both clearly care deeply for him, but at times fail to support him through his struggles.
We meet Akeem as his determined track-and-field coach (David Alan Grier) encourages him to abandon his obsession with the 400m race - which brother Germaine (who Akeem idolises) was the star of - and set his mind on the 200m, where he seems to excel. After a classmate is injured at a local competition, Akeem is put forward for the 200m race and wins, demonstrating his talents as a sprinter. He soon gains media attention with his impressive race times, and even earns the nickname, ‘Rasta Rocket’. As Akeem’s career as a runner opens up new exciting opportunities, he has to juggle new responsibilities alongside his troubled home life, which becomes even more complicated as family secrets are revealed.
The basic storyline of Saulter’s Sprinter isn’t something we haven’t seen before. The extremely talented individual who has the potential to succeed, yet various personal struggles and increasing turmoil make the pathway to success and victory a significant challenge.
What sets Sprinter apart, is the convincing and heartfelt performances from the cast. Dale Elliot shines as the young, cheeky, passionate lead and he manages to strike the perfect balance of seriousness and comedy, when it’s appropriate. Elliot’s performance is also believable in that he successfully communicates the right level of immaturity that you would expect from a young person going through such a complicated situation.
The complex relationships between Akeem and his various family members portrayed in the film are engaging, the dynamics within the family and how these evolved as Akeem progresses through his journey are interestingly played. Titus does a fantastic job of playing Akeem’s broken father and Wilson is successful in his role of the selfish, conflicted brother. So, even though the story isn’t particularly fresh, the character arcs are compelling enough to keep viewers engaged.
The cinematography flows and the use of sound works perfectly, providing viewers with a welcome burst of Jamaican culture, and although the film chugs along in a fairly predictable manner - even dragging a little bit thanks to some unnecessary filler - it doesn’t seem to matter all that much. This film has heart, and you really grow to care about Akeem as the film progresses and want him to make the right choices, despite some of the mistakes he makes along the way.
Sprinter is a story of struggle, determination and unconditional love. The weaknesses displayed in its predictable script can be forgiven thanks to the engaging, dynamic relationships between the key characters and the believable performance from a likeable lead and promising actor in Dale Elliot. It will have you cheering Akeem on to the finish line.