Nyad (2023) Movie Review – An inspirational movie about the diligence of the human spirit


An inspirational movie about the diligence of the human spirit


Never give up! That’s the message of this new movie from Free Solo directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin.

Like that aforementioned documentary, which focussed on the unforgiving world of free climbing (scaling enormous rock faces alone and without a rope), their new movie, Nyad, is another extreme sports story, this one about Diana Nyad, the legendary long-distance swimmer who, in 2013 at the age of 64, attempted to swim the 110 miles from Cuba to Florida.

This wasn’t Diana’s first attempt to make the journey. She had tried several times before but her efforts were scuppered by inclement weather, jellyfish, and the kickback of her own body that drove her to exhaustion. But it’s to her credit that she never gave up! It was her dream to swim that brutal stretch of water and so swim she did, despite the various setbacks that threatened to stop her from reaching her goal.

Did Diana make it? You’ll already know the answer if you have followed her career but if you haven’t, we aren’t going to reveal the film’s outcome here. It would be wrong of us to spoil the ending of this tale as that would take away the tension you’ll experience as you watch this athlete battle valiantly through the harsh, shark-infested waters in pursuit of her dream. 

But Nyad isn’t just a movie about one woman’s attempts to do something that many of us would consider impossible. It also tells a story about the unbreakable bond between two friends, in this case, the friendship between Diana and her longtime buddy and coach Bonnie Stoll. Bonnie was Diana’s rock, her encourager, and her voice of reason, and her involvement in Diana’s athletic successes cannot be underestimated. 

Annette Bening takes on the role of Diana Nyad in the film. She trained for a year to take on the part so during the scenes when Diana is swimming in the ocean, that’s Bening we see in the water. Of course, the actress didn’t complete the full Cuba to Florida swim, but she did push herself physically to demonstrate the diligence and strength of the athlete that she portrays. 

Bening is fantastic in the role, ably exhibiting the physical and mental torment that Diana went through, so we can fully invest ourselves in the character and her goal. When watching the film, there will be times when your heart will be in your mouth (not literally) when her athletic pursuit comes under threat from both external and internal forces, so drawn in will you be by her endeavours. 

As Bonnie Stoll, veteran actress Jodie Foster also gives a wonderful performance, especially during scenes with Bening. There is clear chemistry between the two so there is never a moment when we doubt their characters’ friendship. They give this thrilling movie its heart as does Rhys Ifans who gives a moving performance as John Bartlett, the captain of the boat that sails alongside Diana during her epic journey. His character is a good counter-balance to Diana, being more world-weary than the optimistic swimmer, and he manages to hold our attention, even when sharing the screen with the powerhouse double-act of Bening and Foster. 

For the most part, the film is very good, but as with most movies of this type, there is some doubt about the authenticity of it all. Some scenes have been invented for artistic license, and some moments worthy of note have been omitted, perhaps to tell a more inspirational story. For one thing, Diana Nyad wasn’t the first person to attempt the Cuba to Florida swim. The film does mention another athlete who failed to complete the journey but it fails to mention the fact that two other people before Diana had already completed the achievement, albeit with the protection of shark cages (which Diana didn’t use). 

These aren’t the only omissions from the true story of Diana Nyad but we shouldn’t criticize the directors for watering down her story a little. The film isn’t meant to be an entirely truthful biopic of the celebrated swimmer. Instead, it’s a traditional sports movie that showcases the resilience of the human spirit with lessons about the importance of following our dreams. So, despite some discrepancies with the truth, this is still a gripping depiction of that famous 2013 swim when Diana dared to do what most athletes would backstroke away from! 

Nyad might not be the biopic that some people are expecting but it’s still an entertaining movie. It’s very well made, with realistic depictions of Diana’s struggles both in and out in the water, and it’s expertly acted by the three main players. The movie might even inspire you to get out of your armchair and pursue your own life goals, no matter how impossible they might seem.

So, even if you are familiar with the story of Diana Nyad, you should still get something from this suspenseful, inspiring, and invigorating tale of the ebbs and flows of one woman’s battle to swim against the odds in pursuit of her life’s mission. 


Read More: Nyad Ending Explained

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  • Verdict - 7.5/10

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