A.J., a young, naive but extremely determined young swimmer, fights to get a spot on the top swim team in the nation.
Despite his youth, he is clearly driven to forward himself in his sport. But the head coach of the team is skeptical and even hostile, even after A.J. offers a convincing display of his talents and ability.
But Coach Moss offers A.J. one last test to prove his mental toughness and mettle. But the dangerous, even cruel, trial may find A.J. sacrificing a crucial part of himself, all in the name of moving up in his sport.
Director Verner Maldonado, with Matthew Schlissel, is a compact, powerfully plotted drama that takes advantage of its tight narrative scope to ratchet up tension and suspense. A pressure cooker of a sports story, the film uses beautifully naturalistic but dynamic camerawork (including fantastic underwater footage) and brisk editing to capture the course of one swim practice, creating the sense of a sealed-off world with rules and laws of its own.
The story starts right away in confrontation mode, as A.J. demands a trial to get onto the team. Beyond his undeniable talent, he also shows great chutzpah and initiative. His coach, however, doesn’t take kindly to it, increasing his ire towards A.J.
The vivid, concise writing and excellent performances by actors Charles Parnell as Coach Moss and Michael Blake Kruse as A.J. bring precision to each specific beat of the growing conflict, as well A.J.’s growing conflicted emotions as he progresses in his testing. He arcs from being confident and even cocky, but when faced with one last trial, his youth reveals itself as an innocence in danger of tarnishing.
His final test is clearly a hazing of sorts, and A.J. is faced with a difficult choice: will he go through with it to follow his ambitions, or will he follow his conscience? The confluence of strong writing, a subtle but tense score and nuanced performances drive the film to A.J.’s answer, and its ending is both a turning point in A.J.’s life and his sense of self — and something that will linger with audiences, well after the film’s ending.
“Swim” is a sports drama in the best sense of the term, using the naturally heightened and often overt conflict of athletics to explore character, ethics and emotion. Ultimately a dark meditation on the price of success and perhaps even passion, as well as a cinematic Polaroid of one young man learning just who he is, and perhaps confronting the darker side of his character for the first time. A.J. is young and driven, but also innocent of just what it takes to pursue success in an ultra-competitive world.
When the proverbial veil is ripped from his eyes, the cost of just what it may take — and who he must become — becomes known, with an almost devastating clarity.