Swimming Upstream (2003) Poster

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Rush and Davis give bold performances in this true-life account of Aussie swimming champ Tony Fingleton.
george.schmidt8 February 2005
SWIMMING UPSTREAM (2005) *** Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Jesse Spencer, Tim Draxl, David Hoflin, Craig Horner, Brittany Byrnes, Deborah Kennedy, Mark Hembrow, Mitchell Dellevergin, Thomas Davidson, Kain O'Keefe, Robert Quinn, Keeara Byrnes. (Dir: Russell Mulcahy)

Rush and Davis give bold performances in this true-life account of Aussie swimming champ Tony Fingleton.

Athletic biographies and films about sports in general seem to keep audiences enthralled as they line up to see them, rooting for the underdog and living vicariously through their triumphs as well as viscerally feeling their emotional (and physical) scars they accumulate in the long and winding road to success.

In the latest true-life account the sport is swimming and the athlete is Australia's national champion Tony Fingleton circa the 1950s-early 1960s, beginning with his humble beginnings as the middle child of a family of five and clearly not his father's favorite as the story proceeds to illustrate just how blunt that fact is with some heartbreaking moments of just how difficult it can be to be a perfect athletic specimen, but an absolute zero in the eyes of a loved one.

Tony's blue-collar working class dad, Harold (a superb Rush in a continuing string of chameleon like turns of late), a man who houses many demons and unleashes his inner fury through bottles of beer , tries his best to provide for his sprawling tight family and although his focus on winning-is-the-only-thing-that-matters view in life has to face his failures every day (he gave up a promising attempt as a professional soccer star by marrying young, and regretting every moment thereafter) in spite of his loving family and long-suffering wife Dora (the ethereally haggard Davis equally top-notch in a semi-low-key performance). His main cause of bitterness is apparently his son Tony's good-natured, loving self that only may mirror the phantoms of what Harold may have been (or could have been) and his reflection is only refracted back with disappointment until one day the young boy and his sibling John announce they can swim very well much to his surprise. Harold sees this magical moment as his ticket by coaching his lads gruelingly to stardom and becomes obsessed in their times by carrying his ubiquitous stop-watch at all times and having the boys go at the crack of dawn every day until they are young men equally scrabbling to make names of themselves (and eventually to disembark their trappings for the real world).

Spencer gives a remarkably effective performance as the tortured Tony (as does Dellevergin as his younger version) attempting to shake off the waves of abuse and loathing from the only person he so desperately wants to make proud of and is ably supported by a more difficult turn by Draxl (and his younger counterpoint Davidson) as John. The two young brothers are thick and thin covering for each other when things get messy yet eventually a wedge is driven between the two by the conniving Harold who will stop at nothing to see his 'dream' the way it should be.

The acting by both Rush and Davis is truly impressive as each manages to avoid making either of their roles true monsters and victims by giving them shades of gray in character and just enough reality to their pre-conceived stereotypes – alcoholic loser and misbegotten abused wife.

Veteran director Mulcahy (HIGHLANDER) has a difficult task in keeping the film's pace relevant to the seemingly endless swim matches and his choice of pulsating music diminishes his clever wipes and split-screens to divvy up the emotional overload his characters are going through. Yet the screenplay by Anthony Fingleton - based on his biography with his younger sister Diane – keeps the storyline real in its brutality and shame.

What easily could have been a waterlogged THE GREAT SANTINI the film achieves the unexpected: sympathy for a loser and new-found respect for a winner.
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Geoffrey Rush is awesome !!!!
yogagalCO5 January 2005
Saw this film at the Denver Film Festival and found it to be intense and moving. Tony Fingleton spoke after the film ended. Making this film was truly a labor of love and he was actually moved to tears as he spoke about his childhood. He said he no longer speaks to his brother-very sad. He said that the film was originally planned as a made for television program but the budget was too great as it is a period piece. Competitive swim buffs, Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis fans alike should appreciate it. The actors playing the brothers when they are older are hot too ! I hope this film is able to be distributed widely so it can be seen by lots of people-it is a perfect film for families with older children . Highly recommend this film
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A real winner!
David Atfield24 September 2002
This true story of Australian swimmer Tony Fingleton is not your typical "inspirational" tale of rising above the odds to become a champion, it is rather a tale about the real meaning of success. Success is about realising yourself, not the deeds you do or the medals you win. For Tony this was a tough lesson to learn.

The film is brilliantly directed by Russell Mulcahy, who shows unusual restraint, without losing his dynamic and unique style. Some of his direction here reminded me of his work on "Queer As Folk", as he manages to stylise the action without sacrificing the emotional integrity of the screenplay (which was written by Fingleton himself). Although the film is set in the 1950s and 1960s, Mulcahy refuses to become a slave to the period, instead he utilises 21st century editing styles, including the truly thrilling use of split-screens for the race sequences, and a terrific electronic music score, to make this period tale utterly contemporary.

The performances are nothing short of spectacular. Jesse Spencer, who plays Tony, seems set for international stardom. With the face of an angel, and the body of a god, he can hardly fail to make an impression - but he can really act as well! He is ably supported by two of the greatest actors in the world today, and they're both Aussies - Judy Davis and Geoffrey Rush, who play Tony's parents. The story focuses on Tony's relationship with his father, a very strained and complex relationship. Rush's performance is probably his best screen work to date (yes, even better than "Shine"!), as he creates a multi-dimensional being out of what could have been a cliched villain. And Davis just keeps getting better and better as an actress. As the long-suffering mother, she completely avoids cliche, and invests the character with zest, warmth, love and anger. She is dynamite! Tim Draxl is also impressive as Tony's brother John - at once jealous and proud, and Mitchell Dellevergin is perfect as the young Tony. All the performances are excellent, although I could have done without the comic cameo by Dawn Fraser, which harms the emotional intensity of one very important scene.

Perhaps the film hammers its themes a little too relentlessly, but it's easy to forgive a film that has this much heart. Given the right distribution I think this film will go on to great international acclaim, and strong box-office. Another Aussie classic to treasure!
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Emotionally powerful and inspiring; based on a true story
jv33326 December 2004
This film was the "Closing Selection" for the 2004 San Diego Film Festival. The story shows the emotional pain of growing up with an alcoholic and abusive father. And yet, through the violence and strife emerges the eventual best Olympic swimmer from Australia in his event. The movie was about the life story of Tony Fingleton, whom I was fortunate to meet in person after the film. What an outstanding individual as he fielded audience questions with complete honesty and panache.

His story is testament to the tenacity of the human spirit in the face of a troubled and abusive father. Yet despite it all, emerges a positive and intelligent force. There was still a drive to improve one's mind despite a relentlessly critical father in the protagonist's formative years. The emotional family confrontations are not for the squeamish; however, it is a tribute to human optimism and accomplishment. I wish it were revealed a bit more about Tony's drive for education early on, i.e., who inspired that aspect of his development? Geoffrey Rush's acting as the father is stark and striking. The images and messages of this film will stay with you for a very long time!
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A fine opening night film!
agentk21 July 2004
Just saw this film on its USA premiere at the Stony Brook Film Festival opening night. A packed house and an excellent Q+A session made this moving film a perfect choice to start the festival.

As previously stated, the casting was perfect with the distressed family members being portrayed in believable and engrossing ways. Both Rush and Davis deliver wonderful portrayals. According to the author, who was on hand for the opening, Geoffrey Rush did an eerily accurate job in his role as Tony Fingleton's father.

All in all, an excellent film that should be distributed more widely than it currently is.
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A great Australian story
vampiresan28 September 2002
I watched Swimming Upstream as part of the judging for Australia's Film Institute awards and was very impressed with it at that screening. The performances are superb, especially Judy Davis and Geoffery Rush. But the real power of the film lies in it's subtext about a father who managed to disregard his own son.

The implications of this, and the way it was so beautifully, visually and poignantly brought to the screen, is one of the true achievements of this film.

Special mention goes to Anthony Fingleton who wrote the screenplay (based on his autobiography) He and co-writer Diane Fingleton have managed to relate an extrordinary situation without trying to answer the greatest puzzle - how could this happen in a loving family.

A real Gem that will no doubt be overlooked by many. A shame.
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Hard to like
zagorskis28 February 2003
This well acted true story drama is a difficult movie and wont be particularly popular. I gave it an 8 out of 10 although I've got to say I didn't like it so much as appreciate it. The test of a good drama for me is whether you talk about it and question aspects of it after its over. This certainly had me and my wife talking, mainly about the relationships issues that it generates (particularly those between parents and their kids). I won't be recommending this to every friend, but for those that I know that appreciate a movie that makes you think, it gets my vote of confidence. My final comment regards Tony Fingleton himself. If you are out there reading this Tony, all I can say is that I wish you and your family in New York every happiness and success. Nobody should have to experience the kind of torment brought upon you by your father.
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Great acting
callapm6611 January 2004
This film has two fantastic leads....Geoffrey Rush and Judy Davis. These two characters are developed well in an interesting script. Swimming is so much part of our culture and history. It's great to see a film that captures the drama of competition
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Deserves to be better known
tbscreenrider30 October 2003
Since all the reviews I read on this film so far are from Australia, I couldn`t resist to comment on it, if just for showing that it made the other side of the world :-). I bought the DVD because I already am a fan of Jesse Spencer (though I never had the chance to see his "Neighbour"-appearances) - I like him in "Stranded". So I bought the DVD of "Swimming upstream" and was really impressed by his acting-skills. The story lacks a little tempo at times, but the characters played by Jesse Spencer and Judy Davis are really coming to life very well. And the way I dislike Geoffrey Rush`s character is proof of his good job either. Contrary to a previous review I read, I liked the use of the editing machine during the swimming sequences just fine. The only thing that struck me was the music during those sequences, that just was dramatic all right, but way to modern for the time that movie played in. With a little more tempo this might have been a top-league drama, but it still deserves to be better known and I will certainly recommend it to friends of drama-movies.

I hope for Jesse Spencer to find more roles that bring out his talent and make him even better known worldwide. It`s not often that good looks and talent go together (Kevin Zegers is another fine actor that deserves to be better known...).

I still wonder, why Tony`s father disliked his own son that much...I wish no kid would have to live through something like that. Ever!
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Acting superb!
sjb_can16 June 2007
Jesse Spencer is wasted on TV. He is a phenomenal actor. I was dazzled by his performance. Judy Davis, is, as always, top drawer. Although I don't much like Geoffrey Rush, I can't complain about his acting. I probably don't like him because he almost always plays characters with few redeeming qualities. Anyway, although the story is hard to watch for people who grew up in alcoholic or abusive homes, it is realistic and well-done. The family dynamics are portrayed so profoundly and truly that the swimming competitions, although central to the story, don't dominate in a boring way. Jesse's character, Tony Fingleton, is trying to succeed at something in life, despite the constancy of his father's hateful abuse. Tony never gives up, even in the face of hurt and betrayal.
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