MPI // 2009 // 98 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart (Retired) // October 26th, 2010
"Paul's going to swim the entire length of the Hudson River."
Paul (Joseph Fiennes, FlashForward) tells his friends Liz (Elizabeth Reaser, Grey's Anatomy) and Jeff (Justin Kirk, Weeds) about it, buys a boat, and dives in. Even though he's about ready to quit as soon as he dives into the freezing water, he keeps going Against the Current. The movie's an official 2009 Sundance Selection.
What Paul didn't tell his friends -- and Jeff is slowly figuring out -- is that he's going to kill himself when he's done with his multi-day adventure. After his wife died, Paul tried to jump off a roof; Jeff suggested he consider it for five years. It's five years later, Paul has considered it, and he's going to do it.
When Jeff first explained this to Liz, I reacted with a nervous laugh. Suicide isn't funny, but the thought of Paul preparing for suicide for that long seemed absurd. It just struck me as an unlikely premise for a story, and it didn't help matters that Joseph Fiennes makes Paul come across as a stick figure. He just doesn't bring much emotion, or depressed lack of emotion, to the table. You'd think either thread of his story would be able to give his performance some spark, but you'd be wrong.
However, the unlikeliness and Fiennes' bland portrayal shift the attention away from Paul and over to Liz and Jeff, who debate what to do about Paul's suicidal intent; Liz wants to intervene, but Jeff wants to help Paul complete his quest, as he promised. This essentially lets Justin Kirk hijack the movie. He has most of the movie's good moments as Jeff keeps his promise, even as he dreads the final result. Kirk even gets the movie's best side bit, as he exchanges signs of personal low self-esteem with Michelle Trachtenberg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) after the trio visits Liz's relations for dinner. Mary Tyler Moore appears briefly as Liz's mom; she chides Paul on his decision, but doesn't really get to make that much of an impact.
Thus, Against the Current basically shapes up as a moral dilemma picture, with Jeff and Liz in a difficult situation, considering their options. That aspect of the movie is handled well, so there's something there, but it isn't as dramatic as it could be, since writer/director Peter Callahan didn't consider all his options fully.
Against the Current isn't a travelogue, but the Hudson River looks good throughout. The music and the sound of the river's lapping waves come across well, too.
There are no extras, other than a trailer.
Even if Paul's all wet during his swim, Against the Current is guilty
of being rather dry.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 98 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Not Rated