“Saint Ralph”

Mar 15, 2011
One Comment
This fictional, ophthalmologist Canadian film was brought to my attention by a good friend of mine. He's a runner and this film centres around an extraordinary young runner from Hamilton, search Ontario in the early 1950's. Steeped in a Catholic upbringing, 14 yr. old Ralph Walker is looking for a miracle. His father was lost to the war and his mother is lost to a coma. He is lost to his desire for a miracle. Young Ralph is a delightful character; honest, real and unconventional. Like any young teenager, he is curious and caught up in discovering the joys and pains of youthful passions. He is also regularly caught in his indulgences and chastised harshly by the stern, Father Fitzpatrick (the school's Head Master). One of his punishments is being sent to run with the school's running club. Let me be clear; Ralph is not an athlete.  So, this is actually a significant punishment for our hero. But none of it keeps Ralph from carving out his own path. He keeps on as a classic dreamer and free-spirit, speaking his mind and following his heart. But, when he's faced with the very real possibility of his mother never waking from her coma, Ralph earnestly searches for an answer, a miracle. He comes up with a crazy idea...well, crazy to everyone but Ralph. Based on very poor theological reasoning, he believes that if he can win the Boston Marathon (a miraculous achievement) then God will wake his mother and they'll live happily ever after. A miracle for a miracle. Seems fair, right? Well, no one takes him too seriously at first. After all, this is Ralph; head-in-the-clouds, day-dreaming Ralph. But he is serious. He intensifies his training, outrunning his older club counterparts. He enters into Hamilton's classic, "Around the Bay" race (30K) and he wins! This convinces Ralph that he is ready to go to Boston and make a miracle happen. But his seniors (mainly Father Fitzpatrick) become increasingly concerned that this little boy is going to set himself up for extreme failure. Slowly the one man who comes to Ralph's side is the running club's coach, Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott). Father Hibbert trains Ralph for the Boston Marathon despite his boss' explicit instruction to stop. Ooooo, nothing says "rebel" like a junior priest disobeying a senior priest! You get the picture. The tension increases, the stakes get higher and Father Hibbert and ambitious Ralph arrive in Boston. Of course, this is the pinnacle of the film, so I won't give away the ending. On the surface, "Saint Ralph" is a basic, even cliché, underdog drama. The directing is standard; effective but not outstanding. The actors are great, but held down by stereotyped character writing and a predictable script. All that said, it kept my attention, raised my pulse at the right times and was very satisfying. I'm not sure if it was because I live in Hamilton and therefore felt connected to the heritage and locations. Or maybe it's because, like Ralph, I'm not much of an athlete but have enjoyed the discipline and rush of running myself. Whatever it was, I personally enjoyed this film a great deal. As a critic, I found it to be "okay" and unexceptional. If you're a runner yourself (or a Hamiltonian) I think you'll likely have a good time watching this one. It's nowhere near as compelling as running classics like, "Chariots of Fire" or "Prefontaine". But then again, there isn't an abundance of films that revolve around such a popular and addictive activity. So, you're likely eager to find whatever you can. And "Saint Ralph" does not disappoint. This saint connects with the soul of the runner, underdogs and dreamers everywhere.