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Overall Rating

Worth A Look31.58%
Average: 18.42%
Pretty Bad: 18.42%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 20 user ratings

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Saint Ralph
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by PaulBryant

"Things of a Miraculous Nature"
4 stars

Usually a film as much heart as this will patronize the viewer into resenting the very qualities it holds in high regard. Thanks to the impressive direction of Michael McGowan, Saint Ralph instead charms us, scene after scene, until it is time to win us over. And it does.

(Saint) Ralph Walker is a 14-year old Catholic School student who, when we first meet him, is confessing quite a large number of venial sins. Apparently, “self-abuse” is the teen’s main problem, and we later discover this to be all too apparent in an ambitious scene of Ralph …er… abusing himself in a public pool. Hilariously offside scenes like this one push Saint Ralph away from clichés, while other sequences choose to ride their coattails – and ride them well.

Ralph’s mother is sick in the hospital, with some form of cancer presumably (though her illness is never defined), and she soon slips into a devastating coma. His father already dead, Ralph continues to live in his parents' house pretending that his grandparents are looking after him when, in fact, they’re dead too. Ralph has nobody. But, like most of his other emotions and thoughts, he hides his loneliness behind a convincing guise of charm and humor.

The fine line of comedy and serious drama never slips too far on the side of seriousness thanks mostly to the appeal and grace of young Adam Butcher’s performance as Ralph Walker. Just a little bit less subtlety from the young actor, and Saint Ralph could have drifted into that ever-increasing pile of cinema-claptrap best described as the "tear-jerker.”

From masturbation to miracles, Saint Ralph’s story succeeds in keeping itself grounded in real human emotion - even when the events and dialogue don’t ring true. Feeling powerless to help his dying mother, Ralph takes a throwaway comment from Father Hibbert (his bitingly sarcastic, Nietzsche-savvy Bible-studies teacher, played with amazing believability by Campbell Scott) about miracles too seriously, and decides he will train, run, and win the Boston Marathon. He considers that if he can actually win the race, it will represent the miracle his mother needs to wake up from her coma.

This is all the stuff of dreams, surely – or at least your basic bottom-feeding movie-of-the-week – but the film has charm abound, and somehow gets us to go along with its eccentricities. With things like miracles and Santa Claus, and all those childish fantasies we frown at and secretly believe.

With its gorgeously fluid camerawork and soft use of natural light, its heavy influence of Catholicism, and central focus on a pubescent teenager, the mind recalls the work of Sven Nykvist and Ingmar Bergman in 1980’s Fanny and Alexander. The requisite amount of guilt in accordance with the Catholic religion marries the two – not to mention that each film’s villain (here played by Gordon Pinset, there played by Swedish actor Jan Malmsjo) are both high ranking Catholic officials, and look remarkably alike. We are grateful that Saint Ralph doesn’t end up taking itself as seriously as that classic film did, because really, that’s what European movies are for.

The film’s beautiful music recalls - in rhythm, style, and chord change - the great Thomas Newman (American Beauty, Shawshank Redemption). It feels like a Newman score, which says a lot about Saint Ralph's composer, Andrew Lockington, and even more about the film itself. Newman, who will probably reach Jerry Goldsmith-numbers in Oscar nominations by the time he’s through, has one of the best track records in Hollywood for quality movies, so he’s a good man to emulate. Whether the aural similarities are intentional or just coincidence, it’s a fine score that supports the film superbly.

A Canadian film about a young Canadian boy who unites a group of people by running to cure a sickness couldn’t help but remind this Canadian of the late Terry Fox. Showing the power of the human spirit and the strength that one individual can have to bring people together is Saint Ralph’s greatest achievement. And, being a long distance runner myself, I can’t help but hold a soft spot for young Ralph - he uses nothing but the strength of his legs and the determination of his spirit to try and accomplish something everyone else believes impossible.

A lot of personal inventory is taken when you run long distance, and the dogged expression on Ralph’s face as he trains for, and then runs in the Boston Marathon projects his inner passion. Some of my most important personal realizations and decisions have been made somewhere between the first and fifteenth kilometers of a run – young Ralph’s story shows me I’m not alone.

In showcasing the contrast between the innocence and power of youth, Saint Ralph is ahead of the pack.

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originally posted: 04/09/05 10:06:36
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2004 Toronto Film Festival. For more in the 2004 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Palm Springs Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival. For more in the 2005 Victoria Independent Film & Video Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 SXSW Film Festival. For more in the 2005 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival. For more in the 2005 Philadelphia Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2005 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Atlanta Film Festival For more in the 2005 Atlanta Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

12/01/09 Robert thought the film was entertaining, witty, and tastefully done. 4 stars
5/19/07 Omar W Serrano Great will, power and determination 5 stars
9/01/06 Kathy I don't know which movie you watched, but Saint Ralph brought me to tears several times. 5 stars
5/26/06 Pernendu Hendre Some scenes are a little odd, but it realy has draw, expecialy at the end 4 stars
1/11/06 Mansi Dido This is quite amusing, but not really my cup of tea. 3 stars
1/06/06 Bill McDonald Unless you grew up Catholic, before 1960, you probably won't get the full humor. 5 stars
11/19/05 margaret Vant Erve I loved this film. so did my teenage kids; that says something 5 stars
10/25/05 Kara Lang Inspirational for a runner, and made me laugh uproarously at times. 4 stars
10/19/05 JimSee give it a break, its entertainment. If I want harsh reality, visit the hosiptal not theatre 4 stars
6/04/05 Davi Very enjoyable movie. 4 stars
5/24/05 Michael Great Movie!!! 5 stars
5/18/05 Hugh Campbell A Movie I'd Like To Take My Son To See 4 stars
5/08/05 Sean Webb Weak writing and poor acting 2 stars
4/23/05 Jamie Williams Brilliant! 5 stars
10/07/04 Julie I love it! Excellent movie! 5 stars
9/27/04 Ed Wyrwas ...Sudbury, Ont. Canada A ten 5 stars
9/14/04 Andrew Heintzman great film 5 stars
9/13/04 Helen Todd Sweet, Touching, Moving, Wonderful, Spiritual but Real Humor 5 stars
9/03/04 Terrance Lawes Awesome 5 stars
8/26/04 jenny martin awesome film! 5 stars
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  DVD: 13-Dec-2005



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