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Set in 1950s Brisbane and based on Anthony Fingletonís autobiographical novel of the same name, Tony (Jesse Spencer) beats the odds to become a champion swimmer in spite of an overbearing alcoholic father Harold (Geoffrey Rush), and his long-suffering but quietly heroic wife Dora (Judy Davis). Overshadowed in his fatherís eyes by his brothers Harold Jnr and John (David Hoflin and Tim Draxl), it is only when Tony displays an extraordinary swimming talent that he feels he has a shot at winning his fatherís heart and maybe even the Olympic gold.

Review by Louise Keller:
Get on your marks! Itís time to dive into the deep end. And while the bottom of the pool may be filled with mire, the sparkle at the top is undeniable. Poignant and powerful, Swimming Upstream is an unforgettable story about dreams, ambition and family. Anthony Fingletonís story touches us on every level, and we canít help but get involved in the life of this outstanding young man who defies all odds to achieve his dreams. When we first meet him as a young boy, the swimming pool represents having fun with his siblings. As he grows older, it provides the badly needed escape from the harsh reality of a life dominated by the mood swings of his abusive father. But it also becomes the means to win Ė not just the race to the end of the pool, but to vie for his fatherís affections, and to Ďget out of hereí. The fact that his brother becomes part of the competition (both in the pool and at home), adds another layer of complexity to the tragedy of this dysfunctional family. Just like Billy Elliott whose escape is dance, Tonyís release is swimming. We become part of the family as we share rare moments of calm, contrasting with agonising scenes of domestic violence. Then we are in the pool, above and below the waterline, as Tony and John train, win and polish their trophies. Superbly directed by Russell Mulcahy and beautifully shot by Martin McGrath, the camera angles are wonderfully diverse and effective. Take the shot (from the bottom of the pool) when an Australian penny hovers in the water before it sinks to the bottom. Or the extraordinary scene, when the ugliness of a drunken violent altercation is viewed through a spilt puddle of XXXX beer on the floor. The swimming sequences with their split screens are thrilling and while Harold is willing John to win, our hearts are with Tony. Superlative performances bring this moving story to life with Geoffrey Rush extraordinary as the damaged, harsh alcoholic with a violent streak. It is a testament to Rushís brilliance as an actor that he manages to instil some humanity and appeal into this troubled character, while Judy Davisí understated performance as the silently suffering wife brings the filmís most moving moments. Jesse Spencer and Tim Draxl are terrific as the two Fingleton brothers, and their gruelling training regimes to meet the physical swimming challenges pay off. Look out for swimming greats Murray Rose and Dawn Fraser, who make cameo appearances. Itís an uplifting story, with Tony Fingleton never wavering from his dream for which his swimming is the ticket. An absorbing and haunting film, Swimming Upstream is an outright winner.†

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Geoffrey Rush does good drunk and Judy Davis is a brilliant battered wife, but even these two stars canít overshadow the two younger co-stars of this engaging drama, Jesse Spencer and Tim Draxl as the loving and duelling swimming champ Fingleton brothers from the 50s and 60s, whose true story is the basis of Swimming Upstream. Spencer and Draxl are at the centre of the story, but they are also at the heart of the filmís emotions, giving multi-layered and complex performances. The title refers to the drama of their lives, more than to the pursuit of swimming medals. Itís a strong human interest story, which saves the film from the simplistic label of Ďsport filmí even though itís made by Crusader Entertainment of Los Angeles which specialises in ďinspirational, historical, sports and adventure films that offer compelling and positive messages.Ē Russell Mulcahyís direction makes the film interesting as well as moving, and he gets the best out of all his cast. The careful production design places us in 50s/60s Australia without labouring the point, and includes one or two sensational shots incorporating the Harbour Bridge and the early 60s skyline of Sydney. Time travel or digital voodoo, either way these are effective and ring true. There are also some effective morph shots, with Martin McGrathís cinematography a joy. The trajectory of the story is impressive, and the film uses its running time well to condense half a lifetime of the often harrowing, sometimes distressing, always edgy world of the Fingleton family. If you are a swimmer or swimming fan, you wonít need the incentive to see Dawn Fraser play the role of her own coach from those days (with Melissa Thomas playing the young Dawn). And if youíre not a swim fan, youíll be enticed by the solid story and top performances.

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CAST: Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Jesse Spencer, Tim Draxl, David Hoflin, Craig Horner, Brittany Byrnes

PRODUCER: Howard Baldwin, Karen Elise Baldwin, Thomas J. Busch, Paul Pompian

DIRECTOR: Russell Mulcahy

SCRIPT: Anthony Fingleton, Diane Fingleton (from novel)


EDITOR: Marcus D'Arcy

MUSIC: Johnny Klimek & Reinhold Heil


RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 31, 2002 (Limited release: Sydney, Melbourne Perth)

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Col TriStar Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: August 27, 2003

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