A harrowing but tonally jarring drama
The Swimmers is a moving and harrowing true story movie, one that mixes a turbulent array of emotions across its 2 hour 10 minute run-time. Regardless of your own personal beliefs about refugees, the movie succeeds in showing just how difficult and perilous the journey can be for these men and women. In an effort to escape oppression, war and/or abuse, human beings find themselves staring down the jaws of death, and many are swallowed up, never to be heard from again.
For those unaware of the story, I won’t spoil everything that happens here as it’ll take away from the numerous nail-biting sequences. During first 90 minutes or so, the movie is an absolute tour-de-force in tension, and that’s much to the credit of the filmmakers.
The story follows two sisters trying to chase their dreams in war-torn Syria. Yusra has big dreams to be an Olympic gold medalist but her swimming goes up in flames when the country comes under attack.
After a brush with death, Sara and Yusra’s father agrees to send them out to Germany, in a bid to find refuge and salvation. With Nizar as their guide and confidant, the two girls set out, across perilous seas, trusting shady traffickers, all the way to Berlin in the hope of a better future.
For those men and women that make it to Germany, the real fight for freedom begins as each of these refugees attempt to make a new life for themselves. Of course, that means Yusra going back to swimming and attempting to make it into the bigtime. But is that a step too far for her?
The Swimmers succeeds when it really hones in on the journey the two girls make, intent on making it to Germany no matter what. As I said before, the film is chock full of absolutely harrowing moments and one sequence onboard a boat early on will have you on the edge of your seat. Unfortunately, these moments are muddled in with a rather jarring tone that slips into uplifting sport drama territory. I’m being careful not to spoil anything here and I do understand the direction the filmmakers were going, but this jarring tonal clash can feel like whiplash on occasion.
There are some pretty prevalent themes throughout this movie though and the significance of Lulu the bird early on, showing it flutter around the room free from its cage, is a particularly powerful symbol for the life Sara and Yusra long to have.
The Swimmers is also pretty long and some may find themselves growing impatient by the time the final act arrives. It’s here where the movie slips up a little, especially as the earlier sequences hit so hard.
However, the film has some pretty neat editing throughout and a couple of particularly creative shots. Seeing the darkness consuming our characters through a couple of individual flashback sequences (which basically play out like mild PTSD episodes) works really well to reframe exactly how far these guys have come since the beginning of the film.
Sometimes known as the “European Migrant Crisis”, the actual timeline of events (which you can check out here) doesn’t do justice to the horror and perils these men and women have had to endure. It’s a tough journey, one that this movie does a great job capturing.
Ultimately, The Swimmers is a thought provoking and harrowing tale, but also one that’s caught between being a dark drama and a more uplifting, trope-filled sport drama. The ensuing result is a movie that has both hot and cold spots; a film that can’t quite make up its mind and feels a little tonally jarring. Despite that though, this is still worth watching.
Read More: The Swimmers Ending Explained
Verdict - 7/10