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Swimming Upstream
2005 - PG-13 - 114 Mins.
Director: Russell Mulcahy
Producer: Howard Baldwin
Written By: Anthony Fingleton
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Jesse Spencer, Tim Draxl
Review by: Harrison Cheung
Official Site:
Feeling down? Check out ‘Swimming Upstream’ -- a must-see for anyone who suffers from a lack of self-confidence. Based on the autobiography of Anthony Fingleton, an Australian championship swimmer, this independent film is both inspirational and memorable as it explores swimming as a metaphor for life. It is reminiscent of ‘Angela’s Ashes’ in tone and message -- that a person can soar above even the worst situations.

Young Tony Fingleton (Jesse Spencer) grows up in the 1950s Australia, in a large, impoverished working-class family of competitive brothers. His alcoholic father (Geoffrey Rush) is verbally and physically abusive, prone to enraged and devastating diatribes. His mother ( Judy Davis) is long-suffering but loving. But Tony finds solace in the local swimming pool with one brother, John (Tim Draxl) who is also his best friend. When their father discovers that the brothers are pretty fast swimmers, he turns their fun into misery as he cruelly coaches them to local, state and national championships.

But the warped relationship Tony has with his father is never really explained. For some reason, his dad favors brother John. In fact, the father seems to go through the years backing any brother except Tony. There’s an interesting transformation as Tony decides not to swim to compete against his brother or to win his father’s approval, but for his own goals and dreams. “You have to be strong up here,” his mother says, tapping his head.

Australian actor, Jesse Spencer, who can now be seen on the TV series, ‘House,’ is all wide-eyed innocence and wonder as Tony, even while living with the most dysfunctional family in the world. Judy Davis is unforgettable as the abused housewife, trying to keep some civility in her feral brood. But it’s Rush who roars larger than life as the miserable father with his own abusive past. Thankfully, the cast is big enough to keep Rush from too much showboating!

‘Swimming Upstream’ has so many wonderful elements working for it. A fabulous cast, a colorful re-creation of the 1950s, and some fancy camera work that is surreal as it places Tony into watery tableaus whenever he’s suffering from paternal abuse. If swimming is his refuge, the film interprets that wonderful underwater muffling as his safety buffer.

This isn’t ‘Rocky’ or a Disney ‘Miracle’ – there are many long scenes of brutal domestic violence that border on gratuitous. It makes it all the more amazing that the brothers didn’t kill each other, goaded on by a cruel and warped father. There are also some film clichés, but thanks to the tight storytelling, scenes like a grocery store denying the impoverished family credit don’t come off as maudlin. Of course, since this is Anthony Fingleton’s autobiography, Tony is perhaps too saintly as he good-naturedly endures his father's cruelty. And the ending isn’t the predictable championship competition you might expect from a more formulaic sports-as-life movie. ‘Swimming Upstream’ is a surprisingly find and a must-see.
Movie Guru Rating
Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental. Entertaining and well crafted.  May not be worth the price of a theater ticket, but a solid rental.
  3.5 out of 5 stars

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