DVD Review HTF Review: Swimming Upstream

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Jason Perez, Jun 18, 2005.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    Swimming Upstream

    Studio: MGM
    Year: 2003
    Rated: PG-13
    Running Time: 97 minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.85:1)
    Captions: None
    Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1

    Release Date:
    May 31st, 2005

    International competitive swimming is a sport with a long, rich history, and Swimming Upstream tells the inspirational true story of one of its champions, Tony Fingleton (played by Jesse Spencer), an Australian swimmer who rose to prominence during the late 1950s. Yeah, it is probably dramatized somewhat, but since Mr. Fingleton adapted it from the autobiography he co-wrote with his sister Diane, and they also served in the capacity of executive producers, it stands to reason that this is about as accurate an adaptation of Tony’s story as we’ll see on screen.

    As we join the film, we are introduced to Tony’s family, which seems “normal” in many respects. As we get to know them better, however, we learn that his father, Harold Fingleton (the great Geoffrey Rush), abused alcohol and was an antisocial personality, which affected the entire clan, especially Tony. The product of a troubled childhood (his own mother was a prostitute) and the disappointment of never having realized any of his own dreams, Harold is a tough hombre who works on the docks and just can’t seem to develop sound relationships with other people. Unfortunately, this also extends to the members of his family, wife Dora (Judy Davis) and their five children, Harold Jr. (David Hoflin), John (Tim Draxl), Tony, Ron (Craig Horner), and Diane (Brittany Byrnes).

    Not entirely without feeling though, Harold does show a keen interest in his oldest boy, Harold Jr., who is most like him, in terms of personality. You see, like his pop, Junior enjoys masculine pursuits, and also like his dad, Junior seems to relish picking on Tony, who is quite “different” from the rest of his family members, in terms of his intellectual ability and interests. More specifically, Tony has a passion for playing piano and enjoys reading classic literature; things Harold Sr. and Harold Jr. do not understand, and thus have an intense dislike of.

    Tony is not altogether disinterested in athletics though, for during his adolescence, he and his brother John find refuge from their dad’s abusive behavior in a local swimming pool. There, the youths, who actually have a close relationship become infatuated with swimming, and demonstrate rapid improvement. Unfortunately, Harold senses their potential, and eventually becomes involved in their pastime, pushing them very hard to work on their technique.

    Given his feelings about Tony, however, it is no surprise that he favors John, and only exhibits any satisfaction or happiness when John accomplishes something in the water. Tragically, Harold Sr.’s disapproval of Tony’ interests, and likely jealousy over his athletic ability, increases further, and he comes to treat his son almost as though he is non-existent, despite the fact that he is a more capable swimmer than his brother. Even worse, he pits the boys against each other, which strains the close relationship between the two brothers somewhat.

    Fortunately for Tony, his strong will and the love and support of his mother, who recognizes his talents – both physical and mental – gives him encouragement and motivation to persevere. Fueled by Dora’s love, and a desire to prove himself to his father (in spite of the jerk’s baseless disapproval), young Tony decides to train without any help from his dad, with the ultimate goal of earning a spot on his nation’s prestigious swim team.

    In time, Tony Fingleton would indeed realize this goal, and become one of the brightest stars on the Australian squad. That being said, I think the real story here is how he overcame the verbal and physical abuse of his father, who was a very damaged and unsupportive person. Harold’s upbringing probably has to be taken into account, but I just cannot see treating a child that way, especially such a talented and caring young person. Indeed, being a father myself, it was very trying to watch Harold act so callously towards his son, and tell him that he wished he never existed, and I have to imagine it would be even more difficult for a person who had an upbringing as turbulent as Tony Fingleton’s.

    In any event, the end result is moving and inspiring enough to offset this, and the story is told well by helmsman Russell Mulcahy, who employs some interesting visual techniques throughout the film, especially during the swimming sequences. Better still is the cast, especially Geoffrey Rush, who does an absolutely marvelous job as Harold Fingleton, Sr., the tormented soul whose abnormal childhood undermined his capacity to love and support his children, especially if their interests deviated from his own.

    A wonderful actor in her own right, Judy Davis is excellent as Dora Fingleton, a woman that loves her children very much, and tries to protect them from her husband’s physical and mental cruelty. Young Jesse Spencer also handled the part of Tony well, transitioning seamlessly between frustration at not being able to win his father’s approval, displaying love for his mother, and mustering the determination to reach the lofty goals he set for himself as a competitive swimmer on his own. The rest of the actors portraying Tony’s siblings, particularly Tim Draxl as John, also turned in fine performances, but it is the aforementioned trio of actors that really anchor the film.

    On the whole, it was not easy to see children being treated so poorly by a parent, but I thought Swimming Upstream’s positive message was definitely one worth taking in. This is not just a story about a swimming champion’s rise to prominence, it is a story about a young man who overcame a troubled home life, and managed to make something of himself. Perhaps the film is guilty of pulling a little too hard on the heartstrings at times, but overall, Swimming Upstream is an entertaining and uplifting family drama about an individual’s accomplishment in the face of adversity!

    In a word, MGM’s 16x9 enhanced widescreen (1.85:1) transfer for Swimming Upstream looks terrific! Colors, especially skin tones, are very well drawn, and brighter colors are nicely saturated but exhibit no dot crawl or chroma noise. The image is also brimming with detail, especially in the underwater and outdoors shots, and black level is also rock solid, so shadow detail is plentiful and the image boasts a significant amount of depth.

    Ugly and distracting digital signatures like video noise, aliasing, and edge enhancement are also nowhere to be found, and aside from a nominal amount of visible film grain, the print is quite clean! I did not see this film projected in a theater, but it certainly looks good in the home. All in all, this is a very respectable effort by the folks at MGM home video!

    In a move that would make Henry Ford proud, the soundtrack for Swimming Upstream comes in only one color – non, not black - Dolby Digital 5.1! Fortunately, since there is no other audio option, this track is a solid performer, with clean, natural-sounding dialogue, even frequency response, and good overall fidelity.

    Now, the subject matter/genre being what it is, you will probably not be surprised to hear that the bulk of the audio information resides in the front of the listening space. The surround channels are employed a bit more frequently than in many similar films, however, particularly during swim meets, to enhance weather effects, and to emit ambient sounds, which opens up the soundstage a bit. In similar fashion, low-frequency information is not present in any great quantity, but bass response is full and deep when it is called for by the events transpiring onscreen.

    In the final analysis, this is not the most immersive, dynamic soundtrack you’ll hear, but it does exactly what it should – present the source material well! Indeed, solid in most every respect, it should leave you with very little to complain about.


    Swimming Upstream: The Making of a Champion
    This 8 ½-minute featurette is very light on detail, and has an extremely “promotional” feel to it, so I can’t say it is an essential accompaniment to the film. Basically, it consists of interview excerpts with the actors, the producers, the director, and Tony Fingleton himself, and briefly covers the characters and the tension between them, things the actors did to get into their roles, and camera tricks used to give the film a unique look.

    Deleted Scenes
    There are 13 excised scenes from the film available, which run for a total of 19 minutes. Honestly, most of them are both short and inconsequential, and thus likely cut for pacing reasons. The scenes are entitled:

    --- “At the Pub”
    --- “Tea and Sympathy”
    --- “An Unwelcome Guest”
    --- “Vowing to Change”
    --- “On the Radio”
    --- “The Australian Championships – Original Edit”
    --- “Life at the Beach”
    --- “The Aftermath”
    --- “Tears”
    --- “Airport Scene – Extended Version”
    --- “John’s Return Home”
    --- “A Safe Haven”
    --- “Bittersweet Return”

    The theatrical trailer for Swimming Upstream is included.

    Promotional Materials
    An “MGM Means Great Movies” Promo is included, as are trailers for Be Cool and Bigger Than The Sky. Cover art for Rocky Anthology, Raging Bull: SE, On Edge, The Cutting Edge, and Manic is also included.


    (on a five-point scale)
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    Swimming Upstream is the interesting, uplifting, and true story of Tony Fingleton, an Australian swimming champion who overcame a very difficult home life on his rise to the pinnacle of his sport. As I mentioned above, having two small children, I found it tough to see how Tony’s father mistreated his children, but the film still has a triumphant feel to it, and is certainly worth a look!

    As far as the DVD goes, Swimming Upstream looked and sounded very good on my system, and the disc also features 19 minutes worth of deleted scenes, a short promotional featurette, and the theatrical trailer. This is not an extensive amount of extras, mind you, and they are not particularly worthwhile, but it is more than what is typically offered for a film of this nature.

    To wrap things up, while I cannot definitively say that Swimming Upstream has the replay value to make it a must-own title, it is certainly a solid family drama that is worth at least a rental! If this sort of film is your cup of tea, give it a spin!

    Stay tuned…
  2. Mitch Stevens

    Mitch Stevens Supporting Actor

    Apr 27, 2002
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    I wanted to check this out, ever since I first heard about it. Unfortunately, none of my local video stores ever got it in for rental and I don't want to buy it sight-unseen.

    I'm thinking about signing up for Netflix, just to rent this and other films that I wanted to see that my local video stores didn't get.
  3. RickyB

    RickyB Agent

    Jul 15, 2003
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    Nice review! [​IMG]

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