Review by Rich Cline | 4/5

dir Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, Jimmy Chin
scr Julia Cox
prd Andrew Lazar, Teddy Schwarzman
with Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Rhys Ifans, Luke Cosgrove, Jeena Yi, Karly Rothenberg, Anna Harriette Pittman, Eric T Miller, Johnny Solo, Garland Scott, Ethan Jones Romero, Erica Cho
release US 20.Oct.23,
UK 3.Nov.23
23/US Netflix 2h01

bening foster ifans
london film fest

Is it streaming?

bening and foster
Powerfully involving, this true drama is shot in a riveting documentary style with the addition of real-life footage. It also features fabulous roles that Annette Bening and Jodie Foster can properly sink their talented teeth into. Without over-egging the story's inherent adventure elements too much, directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin let the events play out authentically, and the engaging characters make it both gripping and unmissable.
After setting a series of distance swimming records in the 1970s, Diana Nyad retires at age 30. Turning 60 in 2009, Diana (Bening) decides she's fit enough to finally accomplish her dream of swimming from Havana to Key West, correcting her failed attempt at age 28. Her best friend Bonnie (Foster) thinks she's crazy, but agrees to be her coach, and they spend months gathering sponsorship and finding a crew, including boat captain John (Ifans) and shark expert Luke (Cosgrove). And at 62 she sets off to do the unthinkable, simply refusing to give up.
Every scene is infused with Diana's tenacity, which was sparked as a child because her last name is Greek for water nymph. In addition to including footage of the real Nyad, the film gets into her thoughts with flashbacks to her childhood (then Pittman) and the swim coach (Miller) who inspired her, and also abused her. This is something the film addresses directly without any simplification, and the same approach is taken to Diana and Bonnie's sexuality, like everything about them, refreshingly open and unapologetic.

Bening and Foster have electric chemistry together as old friends who tease each other mercilessly, fight furiously and love each other deeply. Both bring blistering energy to their roles, from their fiery eyes to their always-in-motion physicality. These are women who simply do not enjoy letting life pass them by. And their focus, determination and loyalty are hugely inspiring, especially when played with such open-hearted sympathy by these fine actors.

The filmmakers keep everything fully grounded, only occasionally cranking up the suspense, such as when a shark heads straight for Diana. They also include the brutal toll this kind of endeavour takes on the body, as well as the teamwork necessary to even attempt such a thing. And the use of documentary clips continually reminds us that this really happened. Impressively, all of this is accomplished without sacrificing any of the underlying thematic power in the story. So the final chapter of the film is accompanied by almost overwhelming emotions.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 10.Oct.23

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© 2023 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall