Nyad (2023) Film Review, a movie directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, written by Diana Nyad and Julia Cox and starring Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Rhys Ifans, Anne Marie Kempf, Carolyn McCormick, Marcos Diaz, Johnny Solo, Anna Harriette Pittman, Eric T. Miller, Marcella Acuna Baez, Katherine Klosterman, Toussaint Merionne and Erica Cho.
Let’s start off with the fact that Nyad is a technically proficient, solid film. You couldn’t get a more expertly edited picture than this one. It’s directed by Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi, two masters of the craft of film-making. Need proof? See Free Solo, the best documentary of 2018. In Free Solo, we caught a glimpse of a rock climber who took on a challenge that seemed impossible. In Nyad, the story doesn’t always feel as authentic as Free Solo did and it probably shouldn’t. As a plot-driven movie with alleged historical inaccuracies, Nyad is nevertheless intelligent and thought-provoking with Annette Bening and Jodie Foster making compelling bids for Oscar nods.
On Diana Nyad (Annette Bening)’s quest to swim from Cuba to Key West, Florida, she encountered tremendous obstacles. In fact, she didn’t succeed in terms of setting out to accomplish the goals she had when she was 28. This new film really starts when she is about 60-years old. Diana has the idea that she is better equipped in her mind to handle the challenge that she set before herself decades ago and failed to fulfill. Enter her best friend, Bonnie Stoll (a grand Foster). While Bonnie seems reluctant to go along with Diana’s plan to achieve something that seems to be impossible, Bonnie turns out to be a truly exceptional woman of integrity who ends up standing behind Diana when she needs Bonnie the most.
Rhys Ifans turns in a spectacular supporting performance as the boat captain, John Bartlett, who re-enters Diana’s life when she sets out to swim from Cuba to Florida in her mid-60’s. Ifans has always been one of cinema’s most interesting character actors and his character here builds a bond with Diana that is both plausible and enjoyable to watch. Ifans is a talent who knows how to make a performance count even if he doesn’t always have a lot of screen time. Such is the case here as well.
There are some scenes that seem exaggerated such as when the movie turns into Jaws at one point late in the film as a shark comes after Diana and her team tries to stop the shark. Nyad didn’t have to go to the extremes it did here to chronicle Diana’s journey but scenes like the shark one stand as examples of how truly dangerous the choices Diana Nyad made were. Swimming for days doesn’t seem like the way a woman would want to spend her years as she gets older but Diana Nyad certainly broke the mold.
This film shows scenes of the real-life Nyad such as a “The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson” appearance scene and snippets of Diana much later on in the 2010’s when she actually went through with and succeeded on her quest to accomplish her life-long goal. Annette Bening’s performance is enhanced by the real-life footage comparisons and Bening genuinely turns into this woman with a turn that ranks among her best work since American Beauty.
Jodie Foster turns in the supporting performance of her career as Diana’s partner in crime, Bonnie. This is stellar work of the highest caliber and Foster can make you laugh on-screen right after her character says something truly profound. She goes back and forth between humorous and serious variations of her character seamlessly. Foster and Bening play off each other like masters of the acting game with Foster occasionally shining a bit brighter on-screen than the formidable Bening.
Nyad is about never giving up and achieving one’s goals, no matter how difficult, at any age. It’s inspiring to watch. Some of the scenes regarding Diana’s having been abused in the past do give the film a realistic edge that makes it more than just a simple tale of inspiration. There were real obstacles in Nyad’s life that got in the way of her dreams. Her ability to overcome them to still achieve what seemed impossible is quite admirable.
Though Nyad isn’t as strong as Free Solo, it’s probably not fair to compare the two movies. Nyad is the type of movie that, for the most part, feels authentic despite evidence that some of the details it presents may have been falsified or exaggerated to heighten the dramatic effect of the picture. Still, with Bening’s powerhouse leading turn and Foster’s nuanced (and most accomplished) work in years, Nyad remains a movie of fierce integrity that will make audiences want to believe in the power of perseverance and determination. As Nyad comes into Florida from the waters she swam in under Bonnie’s loving guidance, there is genuine triumph to be experienced for viewers. This is a picture where the acting is everything and the inspiring moments just seem to complement the performances ever so perfectly.
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