The Reel Review
Annette Bening and Jodie Foster star in this sports biopic about endurance swimmer Diana Nyad, who at the age of 60, and under the direction of her friend and coach Bonnie Stoll, set out to achieve her lifelong dream – an unassisted, 110-mile swim across the Florida Straits from Cuba to Key West. The film is based on Nyad’s autobiography, Find a Way.
Annette Bening does a remarkable thing in Nyad – making a prickly, self-absorbed individual interesting, and, dare we say, even likable. Mirroring Nyad’s own outstanding crew is Bening’s – an excellent Foster as Nyad’s primary motivator and Rhys Ifans (House of the Dragon, Notting Hill) as John Bartlett, the navigator whose expert knowledge of currents in the Straits played a huge part in Nyad’s eventually successful swim.
The screenplay from Julia Cox (The Last Tycoon, Recovery Road) includes flashbacks to Nyad’s youth, when she says she was sexually abused by her swim coach, and is embellished with CGI depicting some of the hallucinations she experienced during her swims. At times the story drags (there’s a lot of swimming and even more whining), it ignores some of Nyad’s controversies (no surprise, she helped write the screenplay), and some of the “big” acting moments about dogged determination feel a bit contrived, but even so, the solid acting gives Nyad a stirring, strong finish that will tug at the heartstrings.
• To prepare for the film, Annette Bening trained with former Olympian Rada Owen for about a year, as well as a personal trainer in the gym.
• On December 10, 2013 — just three months after Diana Nyad completed the swim — John Bartlett died from heart failure in his sleep at 66 years old. He is survived by his wife of 21 years, Elke Margaret Thuerling.
• During Diana Nyad’s actual last swim, a couple of inexperienced observers on the five surrounding boats had major hours-long gaps in their logs and other discrepancies which resulted in Nyad’s swim not being officially certified, even as an assisted swim.