Australia produces so many world-class swimmers that it could be argued we’re born with chlorine in our blood. And yet despite world dominance in the sport, only a few films on the subject have been produced. Dawn from 1979 comes to mind, as does Swimming Upstream (2003), but most people would be pushed to think of others.
Produced by Ian Thorpe, Streamline is a new Australian drama about 15-year-old Benjamin Lane (Levi Miller), a swimming prodigy whose troubled upbringing and fragile mental state threaten to jeopardise his only chance of making a better life for himself.
With his assertive mother (Laura Gordon) by his side and a relentless coach (Robert Morgan) pushing him to the limit, Ben is caught in a miserable routine and is diagnosed with severe fatigue.
When his father (Jason Isaacs) returns to the scene after a stint in prison, Ben’s life begins to spiral. He quits swimming and runs away to live with his two dropkick brothers, only to become trapped in a life of drugs and alcohol…
Curiously, Streamline isn’t about swimming at all. Rather, the film serves as an exploration of middle-class welfare and the trauma of domestic violence. The world of competitive swimming bookends Ben’s story and audiences follow his journey of survival and self-discovery as he learns that hitting rock bottom and losing everything is often the only way to discover self-worth. It’s a bleak and sombre film to say the least, and its story recalls similarly themed dramas like Broke (2016) and Breath (2017).
Levi Miller, who impressed in films like Better Watch Out (2016) and Jasper Jones (2017), has grown up a lot since we last saw him in Disney’s A Wrinkle in Time (2018), and with an incredibly shredded physique he steps into the role of Benjamin with absolute confidence and commitment, exuding teenage angst with precision.
Miller’s knockout performance is complemented by a strong supporting cast. Gordon and Morgan deliver strong and understated turns as Benjamin’s mother and coach, who overstep their duty of care out of desperation to liberate him from a life of hopelessness.
Also excellent are Jake Ryan and Sam Parsonson as Benjamin’s thuggish brothers. Ryan is particularly effective as the oldest of the three, who lives a reckless and criminal lifestyle, and is seemingly trapped by the trauma of an abusive childhood. His character is equally deplorable and sympathetic.
British actor Jason Isaacs is terrific, too, and like Ryan he manages to express a level of sincerity that gives the viewer moments for pause and contemplation. There’s an unspoken quandary presented as we ask ourselves how far into the dark someone needs to go before qualifying for redemption?
To that extent Streamline isn’t just Benjamin’s story, but rather his entire family’s; each and every one of them is broken and the film focuses on the depths they must sink to before beginning to heal. Suffice to say it’s a powerful story indeed and despite its prevalent bookending, the world of competitive swimming ultimately serves more as a MacGuffin and isn’t as fundamental as it first appears. A love for sport isn’t required here, and no doubt many people will identify and relate to the Lane family’s struggles.
In cinemas: September 2
Starring: Levi Miller, Laura Gordon, Jason Isaacs
Directed by: Tyson Wade Johnston