I generally catch new movies at film festivals, and when watching stuff at art house, at home, or with friends, generally watch movies that are at least 25 years old. I occasionally feel that it is somehow my responsibility to keep up with more recent films, but this usually turns into a disappointment, like the recent experience of watching Splice. Every now and then, I see a recent indie film that is really great, like The Happy Poet which I saw at the Tokyo International Film Festival. Against the Current is another such film.
Joseph Fiennes plays Paul, a financial reporter who has the oddball plan of swimming the length of the Hudson River, ending up in New York. His life-long best friend (Justin Kirk), an out of work actor, agrees to go follow along in a motorboat, and a casual acquaintance (Samantha Sherman) they run into in a bar while drawing up their slapdash plans, agrees to tag along as she is a school teacher on break. The whole enterprise is poorly prepared for. No one anticipated how cold the water would be, and how much it would rain. Shortly into the journey, Paul reveals he has a dark secret and this swimming marathon will probably be the last thing he does in life. The revelation serves to anger his best friend, but intrigue the school teacher. Along the way, the sleep rough at night on the banks of the river, and make a few impromptu stops, at the house where the two men played as children, and the home of the school teacher’s mother. The mother is played by ‘70s TV star Mary Tyler Moore, who is terribly funny, driving the three travelers through the stately homes of the town while narrating complete historical gossip connected to each house.
Like The Happy Poet, this is an example of a little indie film that puts Hollywood blockbusters to shame (although this obviously had a much higher budget than Poet). The script is its greatest asset, with a compelling story and more than character development. Joseph Fiennes is convincing as an American character, both in terms of the accent and the attitude, and, perhaps more importantly, he has the athleticism to pull of the role. But Fiennes is not such a star that people will enjoy this simply because of his name in the credits. I can imagine that having his name attached helped get the film funded. However, in the finished film, his performance is much more important than his name.