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CUP, THE (2011)

SYNOPSIS:
Talented young jockey Damien Oliver (Stephen Curry) has been offered to ride Media Puzzle in the 2002 Melbourne Cup by top Irish trainer Dermot Weld (Brendan Gleason). But he loses his only brother Jason (Daniel Macpherson) in a tragic racing accident just days before the Cup. The race fall is hauntingly similar to the way their father died 27 years earlier. Jason's death devastates Damien and his mother (Colleen Hewett) and he has to decide if he will ride in the Cup after all. But after suffering a series of discouraging defeats, Damien triumphs in one of the most thrilling finales in sporting history.

Review by Louise Keller:
Everybody loves a winner and this true story about jockey Damien Oliver's winning ride on Media Puzzle for the 2002 Melbourne Cup has all the elements of triumph over adversity. Director Simon Wincer has penned a fair screenplay with Eric O'Keefe tracing the Oliver family circumstances following the tragic racing death of Damien's older brother Jason. Setting the scene and capturing the excitement of Australia's premier horse race, this is a film whose heart is in the right place and while it occasionally falls down, manages to bring enough verve to a story whose ending we already know.

It's also a tale of two countries - Australia and Ireland - and in the film's opening scenes we are taken to both. In Australia we meet Damien (Stephen Curry) and his brother Jason (Daniel MacPherson), whose brotherly bond is strengthened not only by the fact they are both jockeys but by the family's three-generation racing tradition. They are brothers and best mates, sharing every day racing challenges as well as Saturday afternoon at the footie. Across the other side of the world, Ireland's most successful trainer Dermot Weld (Brendan Gleeson) is making preparations to ship his star horses Vinnie Rose and Media Puzzle to Australia to compete in the Melbourne Cup. A third country throws its hat into the ring, with Dubai's star horse Pugin, owned by a wealthy Sheik and ridden by charismatic Italian jockey Frankie Dettori (Jared Daperis) also planning to compete.

Curry is outstanding as Damien, who confronts his demons as he reassesses his life after being severely shaken by his family tragedy. Gleeson brings gravitas to the screen and his grasp of Dermot Weld makes us feel as though we know him and gives us a sense of the stakes. Daniel MacPherson is good too; charismatic on screen and showing off those good family genes. Shaun Macallef as Lee Freedman is fine as is Tom Burlinson as the Irishman Dave Phillips. Bill Hunter however, is miscast as Bart Cummings. Colleen Hewitt shows heart as Damien's mum and I like Wincer's occasional use of black and white to portray past events.

The lead up to the $4 million dollar horse race that stops the nation is well done and the climactic race has all the anticipation, thrills and elation we expect. The racing scenes are well executed and by the end of the film, when it is the real Damien Oliver who blows a kiss to the sky as he passes the winning post, we are suitably moved.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Even if you belong to the small minority in Australia who doesn't stop to watch The Melbourne Cup, you will probably recall the triumphant result of the 2002 Cup in which Damien Oliver defied the odds of his losing streak in the week before the race and the grief of his brother's tragic death in a horse race in the lead-up to the big race. His big win was an emotion-laden event for all, punters and spectators alike, not to mention the participants.

The Cup is the film of not just the race but the lead up, in an attempt to give us a visceral insight into the Oliver family, the key characters behind the big race including Irish trainer Dermot Weld, played with great assurance and warmth by Brendan Gleason.

Stephen Curry is terrific as Damien Oliver, a plucky young man who is very close to his brother Jason (Daniel MacPherson), and who is devastated by his death in the track, just a week before his 13th Melbourne Cup, this time for Irish trainer Weld, on a frisky horse called Media Puzzle. Jodi Gordon is lovely as his fiancee Trish, beautiful and caring and totally credible. She supports him in the days after Jason's death when Damien has to decide if he will still ride Media Puzzle in the race.

Colleen Hewett makes an impression as Damien's grief stricken mother, who had to endure her husband's death in similar circumstances to Jason's, some 27 years earlier. Solid support from Shaun Micaleff as Damien's usual trainer Lee Freedman, Lewis FitzGerald as Media Puzzle's owner Sir Michael Smurfit and Tom Burlinson as Dave Phillips, Weld's touring manager. Bill Hunter is miscast as Bart Cummings (so is his wig) as is Raj Sidhu as competing racehorse owner Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, whose scenes are quite stilted.

Those two scenes are not the only problem, though, with the film's first half especially clunky, unengaging and feeling prefabricated. Things improve, though not enough, until the drama and emotion of the climax, but as we all know the result, this is also muted.

There is formulaic adherence to the film's most obvious elements, underlined by a score from the great Bruce Rowland that is too safe and predictable; evidently that's what director Simon Wincer wanted, because the same can be said for the whole film. It's a great story, but it's not a great film.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

CUP, THE (2011) (PG)
(Aust, 2011)

CAST: Stephen Curry, Brendan Gleeson, Daniel Macpherson, Jodi Gordon, Colleen Hewett, Bill Hunter, Alice Parkinson, Lewis FitzGerald, Shaun Micaleff, Eddie Maguire

PRODUCER: Simon Wincer, Lance Hool, David Lee, Jan Baladier

DIRECTOR: Simon Wincer

SCRIPT: Simon Wincer, Eric O'Keefe

CINEMATOGRAPHER: David Burr

MUSIC: Bruce Rowland

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Lisette Thomas

RUNNING TIME: 106 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 13, 2011







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