As the annual run (sic) of high-profile marathons gets well and truly underway, the timing’s ripe for this engagingly uplifting chronicle of judge Craig Mitchell and his unique exercise in rehabilitation through a self-formed runners club based out of LA’s infamous Skid Row. Though it’s not a revelatory tale, by any means, director and co-writer Mark Hayes endeavours to ensure his story is not only captured from every angle you could possibly want, but that it thoroughly moves its audience as it is.
Mitchell – a dyed-in-the-wool man of law, order, and outright righteousness – makes for a compelling central figure; his philosophy one of the US justice system feeding a perpetual cycle of overzealous incarceration and repeat offence. His solution, intriguingly, sees him inducting recent parolees (some of whom he himself has tried in due course) and others attempting to rebuild their lives into the Midnight Runners – a charitable and rehabilitative group of runners whose jaunts offer the potential to bring wider good to their community and even afford some members the opportunity to run in new and more exotic locations throughout the world.
As intriguing a figure as Mitchell himself cuts however, he’s not quite material enough to sustain an eighty-five minute running time, and its to Hayes’ credit that he tackles the story here as a decidedly ensemble effort. As each of the core members of Mitchell’s group get their turn to shine, we’re taken into the stories that led them to where they are today – each profiled with an introspective eye and a directness that doesn’t assign blame but does afford responsibility, particularly in the case of former addicts David Askew and Ben Shirley – both of whom seek redemption additionally through the art they create along the way.
A rising storyline, meanwhile, involving parolee Rafael Cabrera provides Skid Row Marathon with a genuinely gripping throughline (his still being on parole threatens to negate his opportunity to join his squad on a trip to Ghana), and fluid – though, thankfully, never grandiose – cinematography and visuals imbue Hayes’ work with a level of energy befitting the physicality of its subject. It’s compelling stuff, and the sort of material mid-budget Oscar-winners are made of in fictionalised form. Tight, compact, and emotionally engaging enough to hold its audience through the end, Skid Row Marathon’s hardly dynamic, but it is endearing.
Skid Row Marathon is in cinemas nationwide from Wednesday, May 9th; rated 12A. Check out the trailer below.