Big River Man Review: A Feat Of Viewer Endurance

September 5, 2009 by  
Filed under - Home, Film Reviews

BIG RIVER MAN: On General Release across the UK from Friday 4th September 2009

Martin Strel is an overweight, 50+ Slovenian man with a pretty serious drinking problem.

He’s also the world’s most famous long distance swimmer with a neat line in swimming the length of the world’s most challenging and dangerous Rivers including the Yangtzee and the Mississippi.

In 2007, when aged 53 and whilst drinking at least two bottles of wine a day, Strel smashed his own world record for distance swimming by well over a thousand miles by swimming the length of the Amazon River to raise awareness of deforestation in the area.

Now, if a real life underdog story like that doesn’t get your juices flowing then friend, you simply don’t like movies. However, the story of Martin Strel’s frankly jaw dropping feat is more than a simple saccharine tale of achievement against the odds, which becomes painfully apparent as we watch the troubled swimmer endure extreme physical hardship and a genuinely troubling descent into madness as he battles the world’s most dangerous river.

Rocky, this aint.

The actual story of Martin Strel’s incredible achievement is genuinely fascinating, though filmmakers John Maringouin and Molly Lynch’s continual insistence gilding the Lilly is a constant distraction. One of the key skills of a documentary filmmaker is knowing when to let the subject do the storytelling and it’s here that they spectacularly fail.

Clumsily staged scenes and a soundtrack that sounds like a sixth-formers Spotify Playlist annoy you to the point where you wish they’d simply point the camera at Strel and stay the hell out of the way.

Also, they seem never to have quite decided whether Big River Man is supposed to be an off-beat comedy, an environmental expose, or a harrowing journey into the void. This insistence on trying to make Borat, An Inconvenient Truth and Apocalypse Now all at the same time has a deadening effect on the pace of film and makes a coherent tone impossible to maintain.

Even so, Martin Strel is truly a one off character who demands your attention right from the first second of the film to the last and even the filmmakers’ ineptitude cannot fully curb the fascination of watching a man push himself beyond the limit in pursuit of a seemingly impossible goal.

For that reason alone, this is worth a watch. However, it remains a five star story trapped in a two star film.

Matt Thomas

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