THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
The Cup is based on the true story of Damien and Jason Oliver, two brothers who were part of a family of horse racers. Damien (Stephen Curry) is hired to ride a horse named Media Puzzle, under the supervision of Irish trainer Dermot Weld (Brendan Gleeson). Media Puzzle is not considered to be a great horse by many, but Dermot believes that with the right jockey, there's a chance to win the prestigious Melbourne Cup. Furthermore, he believes Damien is just the man he needs. The plan seems to be going smoothly, until tragedy strikes. Jason is killed when his horse flips over on top of him, and Damien begins flashing back to memories of his father, who also perished in a racing accident. Suddenly, his motivation to pursue victory is gone. The film charts his crisis, as well as what happens when he decides to soldier on.
Inspirational sports-related movies are a genre all their own. Some are great, others terrible. The Cup is somewhere in between. What it has in its favor is a compelling true story. Not being a horse racing fan, I knew nothing of Damien Oliver's experience. For that reason, I was always interested to see where things would go. The performances are also a plus. Stephen Curry is solid as Damien, and Brendan Gleeson is even better as Dermot Weld. Gleeson's part is interesting because the character outwardly proclaims that he will abide by whatever decision Damien makes, yet internally he knows that a chance to win the Melbourne Cup is well within reach. Gleeson is consistently great in film after film; this role fits him like a glove, giving him the chance to deliver the kind of multi-leveled performance he's known for. Director Simon Wincer (Free Willy) additionally gets some stunning racing shots, at times making you feel like you're on one of those horses.
Where The Cup falters a little is, ironically, in the very place where it should be strongest: the depiction of Damien's emotional crisis. Here is a man whose father and brother both died racing. With his two biggest supporters gone, he loses the drive to compete. It just doesn't seem important – or wise – anymore. That should be the center of the film. The screenplay sells it short, though. There are shots of Damien looking pensively into space, and a cliched moment in which someone asks him, “What would Jason want you to do?” Then he makes his decision. The Cup would have been a real powerhouse had it plunged us into the darkness with Damien. (I was reminded of The Fighter, another inspirational sports drama about siblings that wasn't afraid to go deep.) Instead, the film seems afraid of doing anything to make the audience uncomfortable. It wants to inspire at all times, perhaps not realizing that we're more inspired when we can feel how far a character has come.
In the end, I found The Cup to be a pleasant-enough viewing experience. It held my interest, and I was reasonably entertained by it. At the same time, I was never as riveted as I have been by other, similarly-themed films. Damien Oliver's story is undoubtedly inspirational; The Cup makes you feel good without ever truly stirring the soul.
( 1/2 out of four)
The Cup is unrated but contains some mild thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.
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