Rated MA15+, 86 minutes, Stan
Ian Thorpe collaborated with Victorian writer-director Tyler Wade Johnston on this debut feature about a troubled young swimmer, but it would be a mistake to think it is based on, or even inspired by, Thorpe’s life.
Apart from the 15-year-old lead character being wet a lot of the time, there’s no resemblance. It would be a hard news story if there was, given this kid’s feral family, although I assume that some of Thorpe’s feelings about the hothouse pressure of the life ripple below the surface (yes, bad pun intended).
Benjamin “Boy” Lane (Levi Miller) has a family from hell: his father Rob (Jason Isaacs) just got out of the joint – we are not told what his crime was, but it’s clear it was violent. Boy’s older brothers Dave and Nick (Jake Ryan, Sam Parsonson) are drug-addled dropkicks working at a northern sugar refinery, and probably involved in an illegal trade in something. (The Queensland government backed the project, so the setting is meant to imply that state, although some of the cane country locations look like northern NSW).
Boy’s mum, Kim (Laura Gordon) has kept her son away from these male bad seeds. The pool is your way out of that life, she tells him. It might be hers, too, if he can get accepted by the sports institute in Brisbane. For years, she has been getting up at 3am to drive Boy to the pool, where his coach, Mr Clarke (Robert Morgan) coaxes him towards greatness, mostly by yelling at him. The problem for Boy is that he hates his life (except for his girlfriend, played by Tasia Zalar). Now that his father is out of jail, he feels the need to reconnect, even if his dad once tried to kill him. Why Boy wants to do this, I could not fathom (sorry!).
The director does some things well, others not so well. There’s a nice sense of stillness in the images, which gives the film an interior poise. Much of the film takes place before dawn or after dark, as if in a nether world of boredom and exhaustion – the drudgery of the long-distance swimmer.
Dialogue is not one of the film’s achievements, with some of the lines sticking in the mouths of even experienced actors such as Steve Bastoni. A stiff script edit would have helped. The movie is also slow to start with the characterisation taking second place to the bleak and grinding routine. Conversely, that routine gives us an idea of what it takes to become a champion swimmer. Ian Thorpe, who receives a credit here as executive producer, advised on how to make this side of the story real, but it’s not the subject of the movie. Maybe it should have been, because the family drama doesn’t feel organic.