In Philip S. Plowden’s directorial debut Range Runners he poses the question: how far can one go if their head and heart are in the right place? The question isn’t rhetorical; Plowden has an answer and he shows it. The film is a survival story that takes hold of its audience from the very beginning and wastes no time unfolding. Throughout, he manages to pull the viewer into the drama, almost to the point where they feel as though they’re experiencing it as well.
Range Runners follows endurance runner, Mel (Celeste M. Cooper), a young woman pushed to athletic greatness by her father as a child, as she attempts to tackle a 2,200 mile-long trail. While making the trek, she encounters two criminals (Sean Patrick Leonard and Michael B. Woods) who are on the run and in hiding. They attack her and steal her things, leaving her alone without food or water. With nothing left but her survival instincts and an intrinsic determination to never quit instilled by her father, Mel recovers and goes after the men who have wronged her.
Though survival stories are nothing new to audiences, we can’t help themselves from consuming more. This may be because of the sensation it gives us seeing other humans committing such impressive and heroic feats. Survival films based on actual events are especially inspiring and while Range Runners is a work of fiction, it feels incredibly true to life and human. For an audience, watching another person beat the odds and perform tasks only accomplished in our most dire hours inspires hope. If the character on screen can do this, then the viewer can certainly do something they initially found difficult.
This is especially the case with a lovable character and it’s easy to love Mel. Plowden and writer Devon Colwell craft her in a way that causes the audience to take to her from the start and that interest only increases throughout the film. The viewer worries for her life throughout the runtime and prays for her recovery. While this aspect of the character obviously comes from the writers, it is Cooper that gives Mel her depth; she takes what makes her human and accentuates it. Her performance is expertly guided and well-rounded, deserving much more attention than she’ll most likely receive for her role.
In their supporting roles, Leonard as Wayland and Woods as Jared would steal the show if it wasn’t for their standout protagonist. However, this isn’t to say their performances shouldn’t be of note. Leonard personifies evil with a chaotic energy while Woods gives a complex performance as the half of the criminal duo whose conscience is still able to have a hold on him.
Another talent that may unfortunately go unnoticed by the masses – but shouldn’t – is Plowden’s. He exhibits a true filmmaker’s talent and already possesses what could develop into a unique artistic vision. The direction is impressive and accomplished, evident that Range Runners is far from his first spark of creativity- despite being his first feature film. The rest of Plowden’s career is something to look out for because he has the talent to take it in interesting places.
Overall, Range Runners isn’t a game changing film, but it’s a fine work in its own right that may sadly get lost in the rest of the year’s releases. For anyone looking to support smaller, emotionally-driven offerings, I strongly urge you to give Range Runners a try.