As someone who spent countless hours in the swimming pool on swim team, I have much admiration for long distance swimmers, as my competition only extended to shorter sprints. In the case of Diana Nyad, she undertakes impossibly long swims, and this film charts her efforts to swim without a shark cage between Florida and Cuba.

The loneliness of the long distance swimmer is certainly evoked here, although the story line is really a two hander between Nyad and her trainer (and best friend) Bonnie Stoll. The pairing of Annette Bening as Nyad and Jodie Foster as her trainer Stoll is astute, as both actors come to the screen with many accomplished roles behind them.

In this film, both actors eschew any sense of glamour and rather revel in the rough and tumble nature of open water swimming. Getting into the head of a swimmer who spends countless hours in the water is difficult, but screenwriter Julia Cox (based on Nyad’s book) and directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin have done a pretty good job to give the viewer a glimpse of what is transpiring.

As to what pushes an athlete into and through such a grueling effort is left for the viewer to ponder. This is another true story, which makes the proceedings all the more interesting. The filmmakers cleverly make use of actual news footage to add context and veracity to the proceedings. The directors’ prior forays into documentaries are helpful here.

The fact that Nyad attempted the 110 mile swim at age 60 makes everything even more starkly remarkable.

Although she failed to do the swim 35 years earlier, Nyad’s is determined to accomplish the feat, notwithstanding threats from sharks, jellyfish, and possibly her own psyche. Because the main characters have decades of friendship, the screenplay unfortunately requires a fair degree of exposition to bring the viewers up to speed. The storyline also becomes more coherent with the introduction of the crusty captain of the boat (played well by Rhys Ifans) accompanying Nyad. His subplot is an interesting aspect of the main storyline.

Cinematographer Claudio Miranda does a pretty good job overcoming the myriad challenges of filming on water, where the bulk of the film’s action understandably occurs.


Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.