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'Swimming Upstream' is slow going

September 17, 2004|Kevin Thomas | Times Staff Writer

"Swimming Upstream" concerns a likable, athletic Rhode Island 17-year-old (Matt Czuchry) with a talent for writing who looks ahead to a bright future despite his surly, distant alcoholic father (Michael Moriarty), who carries within him dark secrets that are destroying him. Suddenly tragedy strikes, and the question becomes not only whether the son will survive it but also whether it will provoke the father to attempt a reconciliation.

Written and directed by Robert J. Emery, who based his film on Don Robertson's novel "The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened," is bleakly demanding and its cast plays with conviction, with Moriarty giving a rigorous and understated performance that ranks among his best. Unfortunately, "Swimming Upstream" is a relentlessly conventional, somewhat slow and colorless film that too frequently betrays its literary roots.

The young hero's exceptional ability to articulate his thoughts and feelings allows Czuchry to give him some distinctiveness, and Moriarty's inspired portrayal makes the father interesting, but everyone else seems bland and generic. A picture as downbeat as "Swimming Upstream" needs all the personality and individuality it can muster to make it worth submitting to in the first place. These qualities, however, are seriously lacking, and the film ends up seeming as though it might be more at home on television or cable than on a big movie theater screen.


'Swimming Upstream'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material and a scene of sensuality.

Times guidelines: Too intense for children.

Matt Czuchry...Morris Bird III

Elisabeth Harnois...Julie Sutton

Michael Moriarty...Morris Bird II

Kelly Rutherford...Sandra Bird

Ben Savage...Teddy Benevides

A Media Entertainment release. Writer-director Robert J. Emery. Based on the novel "The Greatest Thing That Almost Happened" by Don Robertson. Producers Thomas Busch, Robert J. Emery. Executive producer Susanne K. Ley. Cinematographer S. Douglas Smith. Editor Kevin Kelly. Music Steven Wolf; with additional music by Judy Collins. Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes.

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