Review: “Swimming Upstream”

An interesting young male empowerment tale, “Swimming Upstream” utilises material that both looks and feels more like a TV movie than anything else and yet there’s something more here. From Russell Mulcahy’s interesting direction to powerhouse performances from all involved – there’s a lot of heart and soul on display which lifts many cliched elements such as an abusive alcoholic father and sibling rivalry above the level one comes to expect. Its not an easy film by any means – long, very dry and over indulgent in many ways to hide the inherent lack of story.

Rush is the winner here. This is a difficult role to portray – an odious man who despite his love for his sons is more than happy to play them off each other, and treats his wife with both love and contempt. He takes on the difficult task of portraying a man who may have been a monster, one totally disappointed with the direction of his life and determined to take that anguish out on everyone around him.

Yet without his fire, these boys wouldn’t have been driven to go as high or reach as far as they did. Davis as the long suffering wife role also shines – she never goes the simple victim route, always showing Dora to have an inner strength and conviction. The two work off each other well and the sheer talent on screen reminds you how even limited material can be lifted by a performance.

The younger also fare well. Jesse Spencer does admirable work and effectively portrays the drive of the young Tony Fingleton, young and very hot crooner Tim Draxl is even more impressive as his brother John despite the character’s more stereotypical depth.

The sole big letdown of the film is the rivalry storyline of the pair (the most interesting of the subplots) is left dangling and that sabotages a feel good sense to cap off the flick. Mulcahy portrays the swimming races with effective sense of pacing, speed and split screens without ever losing track. The 50’s neighbourhoods also come out looking realistically downbeat. Its a superbly crafted little tale without much flash but a lot of heart.