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October 20, 2023 / Netflix

Starring: Jodie Foster, Annette Bening, Rhys Ifans

Directed By: Jimmy Chin, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi

A remarkable true story of tenacity, friendship and the triumph of the human spirit, NYAD recounts a riveting chapter in the life of world-class athlete Diana Nyad. Three decades after giving up marathon swimming in exchange for a prominent career as a sports journalist, at the age of 60, Diana (four-time Academy Award nominee Annette Bening) becomes obsessed with completing an epic swim that always eluded her: the 110 mile trek from Cuba to Florida, often referred to as the "Mount Everest" of swims. Determined to become the first person to finish the swim without a shark cage, Diana goes on a thrilling, four-year journey with her best friend and coach Bonnie Stoll (two-time Academy Award winner Jodie Foster) and a dedicated sailing team.

Written By Darren

Rating 3.5 out of 5

Nyad brings Diana Nyad’s remarkable swim from Cuba to Florida to life on film, that with the talented Annette Bening and Jodie Foster leading the film with strong direction from Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, makes for one rousing true sports drama that you won’t forget.

Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have made a name for themselves in the world of documentaries with such notable works as The Rescue and the Academy Award winning Free Solo. The majority of their films have been based in the world of extreme sports and capturing them on film, which makes them a great duo to bring to life the story of Diana Nyad’s record breaking 110-mile open ocean swim from Cuba to Florida. It’s a jump to narrative filmmaking, though the narrative being told in Nyad is similar enough to the stories they have told in documentaries, which lessens the gap in storytelling that they have to extend their expertise to. Combined with their excellent direction of the swimming sequences, that make up a good portion of the film, and the always superb Annette Bening and Jodie Foster in the lead roles, ensures that Nyad is another winning true sports drama for all audiences to enjoy.

Diana Nyad, over the course of her career, continuously accomplished landmark swims, but her most daring swim was her attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida, crossing 110 miles of ocean without a shark cage. At the age of 64 nonetheless. It’s a remarkable true story that deserves the big screen adaptation, highlighting not only Nyad’s achievements, but the incredible members of her team who helped make this achievement possible. The film arrives just after the ten year anniversary of Nyad’s swim, which occurred this past summer, bringing her journey and story to a larger audience. And the film is overall one that is going to inspire and entertain audiences as it is a crowd pleasing sports story, even if it feels one dimensional at times and does not break the cookie cutter structure for the true sports genre. But this is not a major concern for the film, as overall, Nyad’s achievements and physical efforts speak for themselves in the film’s second half and conjure up an entertaining experience.

What truly makes this film is the two lead performances of two of the most celebrated actresses of their generation: Bening and Foster. Bening gives a grueling physical performance as Nyad, performing her own swimming for the film’s second half to bring to life the historic swim without the aid of doubles (as the stroke had to be consistent in each shot). It comes as no surprise that Bening was always the first choice for the role, as she gives a tremendous performance in bringing to life this remarkable woman both in and out of the water. Though for me, the heart of the film was created by Foster who portrays Bonnie Stolk, Nyad’s best friend and trainer. Foster anchors the film with her warmth and dedication to fulfilling her best friend’s dream, while also keeping her friend in check to make sure that she survives the swim. As a pairing, Bening and Foster are exceptional and light up the screen with their commanding performances and infectious chemistry that drive the film from start to finish. While he has a smaller supporting role, Rhys Ifan gives a memorable supporting turn as John Bartlett, the captain of the ship accompanying Nyad on her swim. As he does with almost all of his roles, Ifan infuses the film with some wonderful comedic moments that will have the audience laughing, while bringing to life this fascinating individual who made it his priority to see Nyad achieve her dream.

The film hinges on the direction of Vasarhelyi and Chin, but they knock it out of the park in the swimming sequences. There is an intensity they capture in the second half of the film as Nyad swims from Cuba to Florida, ensuring that the audience never feels for a second like they are watching a recreation of the swim but the real ordeal itself. The practical effects of the waves, wind and rain add a layer of authenticity to the sequences, while Vasarhelyi and Chin utilize their extreme sports documentary background to create a thrilling experience. There are some poor CGI moments in the swimming sequences, most notably the hallucination swim sequence with its bright and colourful CGI, but for the most part the CGI only enhances these sequences. And combined with a good soundtrack of classic rock selections, Vasarhelyi and Chin have crafted a film that is going to energize and delight audiences.

True story sports films always make good films, with their inspirational stories and entertaining sports sequences that never fail to entertain. And Nyad has all of this and more. Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin infuse the film with a gripping intensity in the second half with their exceptional direction of the swimming sequences, but it is the great lead performances of Annette Bening and Jodie Foster that truly bring the incredible story of Diana Nyad’s remarkable swim to life, making Nyad one film that you won’t want to miss.

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