Annette Bening delivers a captivating performance in the intense aquatic film, Nyad.


The main issue in this sincere and well-acted biographical drama is not loneliness for the long-distance swimmer. It centers on Diana Nyad, a retired American swimming champion who became a sportscaster. At the age of 60, she made the ambitious goal of swimming from Cuba to Florida, a distance of 103 miles or equivalent to five English Channels. She faced numerous challenges such as sharks, jellyfish, and discrimination based on her gender and age. Throughout the story, people surround her: her best friend Bonnie, the grumpy and straight-talking captain John on the accompanying boat, memories of her father who inspired her, and her coach who mistreated her.

The concept of individuals accompanying Nyad takes on a new meaning. She is required to swim solo, enduring vomiting and defecating in the water, consuming liquefied sustenance on a pole, wearing a suffocating mask to ward off jellyfish, and staying within the electronic pulse field to repel sharks. Any physical contact would invalidate the entire endeavor.

In the movie, Annette Bening portrays Nyad as a determined and slightly unstable individual who refuses to give up, despite facing numerous setbacks. She often looks at others with a skeptical and frenzied expression, reminiscent of Clint Eastwood reading an eye chart. Bening delivers a riveting performance as Nyad, who struggles with her mental state while relentlessly pursuing her dangerous goal. Unfortunately, Jodie Foster’s role as Nyad’s coach, friend, and former lover Bonnie is not as meaty, as she mostly encourages and motivates Nyad without showing much distress or pressure. It is a relatively easy role for Foster. Rhys Ifans takes on the role of the seasoned captain, similar to Robert Shaw’s character, guiding everyone through treacherous waters filled with sharks, exhaustion, and disappointment.

This is a powerful and inspiring tale, particularly towards the end. However, it may not fully address the terrible reality of Diana’s childhood abuse. The main message is that she is a survivor; she overcomes the cruelty and mistreatment by pushing forward and accomplishing something that can inspire others. While this is commendable, it also involves a hasty and dismissive approach to her painful past.

Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin, the creators of the 2018 film Free Solo, direct Nyad. The documentary follows the daring free climber, Alex Honnold. While it shares similar elements, there is a noticeable presence of Hollywood theatrics and clichés, unlike the genuine atmosphere in Free Solo. While exhaustion is a constant concern, the emotional depth of this film keeps it engaging throughout.


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