Canadian Reviews

Movie Review: Saint Ralph (2005) Review


Saint Ralph - Movie Review by Stephen Bourne, Ottawa, Canada

St. Magnus Catholic High School outcast Ralph Walker (first timer Adam Butcher) needs a miracle. Living alone in his deceased Grandparents' musty Hamilton home, facing his war-widowed mother Emma's (Shauna MacDonald; 'Undercover Brother' (2002)) sudden comatose state and the hard eye of strict headmaster Father Fitzpatrick (Gordon Pinsent; 'Blacula' (1972), 'The Shipping News' (2001)), this precocious fourteen year-old's life seems doomed before the autumn of 1953. However, when a notorious bout of unexpected self abuse in the local swimming pool leads Walker to be summarily conscripted into the school's track team towards burning off his young carnal energy under the skeptical care of slightly unorthodox Religion Class teacher Father Hibbert (Campbell Scott; 'The Spanish Prisoner' (1997), 'The Secret Lives of Dentists' (2002)), he quickly sees a glimmer of hope after all. See, despite him confessing to taking the Lord's name in vain 211 times and having 22 impure thoughts in the past week, Ralph wants to be a good boy so that God will give him back his sickly, unconscious mother. Hibbert has taught that miracles can happen every day, and that all you need in order to make them happen are three things: Faith, Purity and Prayer. Not so simple, but he's got to try. Throwing himself into building up his physical endurance, awkwardly interpreting lessons from the Canadian Martyrs book loaned to him by his virtuously coy love interest Claire Collins (Tamara Hope; 'The Deep End' (2001), 'The Republic of Love' (2003)) - as well as the published mystical teachings of famed Canadian long distance runner and 1907 Boston Marathon winner Tom Longboat (1887-1948) - towards winning that twenty-six mile Massachusetts foot race. He hasn't got a chance in Hell, according to everyone he knows - and won't get a chance to try, if Fitzpatrick has his way. But, Walker is determined to make this miracle happen...

Surprisingly good, 'Saint Ralph' isn't a particularly religious movie. It's the type of unassumingly captivating, maturely themed film that even managed to defy uncharacteristically lousy projectionist skills at my local Cineplex during this screening. Legions of chopped heads and boom mic cameos aside, this Period drama from writer/director Michael McGowan ('My Dog Vincent' (1998)) is a consistently entertaining and wonderfully realized small budget fictional effort throughout. Butcher is perfectly cast here, in a completely mesmerizing break through performance rarely ever seen in English language Canadian Cinema and definitely well worth celebrating. His clearly challenging role is huge, yet this young actor single handedly carries the full weight of McGowan's clever script with enormous ability and ease. Awesome. Supporting cast members Pinsent, Scott and Jennifer Tilly (as Nurse Alice) also pull in marvelously underplayed moments of smart dialogue and wry wit here, admirably fleshing out their characters and the delightfully uncomplicated subplots of this successful ninety-eight minuter. You can't help but notice the cinematic magic that unfolds before your eyes, without feeling as though you're sitting through a Sunday School session. I could gush about this one quite a bit, but I'd likely just sound as though I'm merely excited about seeing a very good Canadian-made movie for a change, when it's obviously good by far higher standards repeatedly met in the States and elsewhere. Sure, 'Saint Ralph' does sometimes smack of pretense for the sake of a slight chuckle or a tug at the heartstrings here and there, but it's nothing that overrides a paying audience's enjoyment from beginning to closing credits. Definitely check out this thoroughly worthwhile flick that's entitled to a lot more notice and praise than will likely be afforded it.

Check out Stephen Bourne's Movie Quips - http://www.geocities.com/iamstephenbourne/moviequips.html

  

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Added: May 24th 2005
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