Different Drummers

A film review by Chet Tan, library volunteer

– Directors: Don Caron and Lyle Hatcher
– Distributor: Bridgestone Multimedia Group


Reviewing films based on true stories is a tricky proposition. When you consider the plot or the way characters behave, you are not just critiquing a screenwriter’s craft: you are giving commentary on someone’s life. Which brings us to Different Drummers, a movie about the real-life friendship between two fourth grade boys living in Spokane, Washington, U.S.A. in the 1960’s.

Lyle Hatcher (Brendan Tucker) is a typical boy of his age, always running around outdoors and playing with insects. He could not be more different from David Dahlke (Ethan Reed McKay), who is wheelchair-bound due to muscular dystrophy. And yet this unlikely duo forms a bond that is surprisingly mature for their age.

Lyle demonstrates a selfless determination to help David experience life unbound by his physical challenges, a far cry from your typical self-centered youth. It is this mission of Lyle’s that provides the central conflict for the film.

For his part, David exhibits remarkable perceptiveness and deep concern for Lyle, particularly when the latter is subjected to the 1960’s bizarre version of behavior management. David’s “condition” and what his family must go through may need to be explained to younger viewers.

To call Different Drummers a Christian film would be a stretch, as its themes come across as more generically moral rather than specifically Christian. The only mention of God comes with David’s belief that God actually talks to him, which leads to points in the story that suggest that David is somehow prescient.

The DVD comes with several insightful featurettes, with interviews of the key personnel involved, including none other than the real-life Lyle Hatcher, who served as a co-writer and co-director on the film. It is through these short documentaries that we learn of the journey to bring this movie from inspiration to fruition, and the attention to detail that the filmmakers exhibited, such as shooting in the actual house David lived in.

Since the film tells the story of real events, it would be unrealistic to expect a neat resolution to all the challenges its characters face. Life is not like that. Instead, we witness the odyssey of two friends who look out for each other in their own way, significantly impacting each other’s life for the better. The making of this very film and the telling of this story are the culmination of that odyssey.

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