Race for the prize – The Cup review

The Cup – Starring Stephen Curry, Brendan Gleeson and Daniel MacPherson. Directed by Simon Wincer. Rated PG. By Simon Miraudo.

Has there ever been a story as ripe for a big screen realisation as Damien Oliver’s triumphant run at the 2002 Melbourne Cup atop tempestuous Irish steed Media Puzzle, mere days after the death of his brother Jason? Could any other true sporting tale match the scope of its tragedy and stirring, tear-jerking climax? The Cup is fresh from the can of cinematic sure bets. Or, at least, it should have been. Director Simon Wincer is unable to convey this tale in a manner that would elevate it beyond the experience of reading the condensed, chronological series of events on Wikipedia. Listless, empty and without any satisfying character arcs, The Cup is the best and most recent reminder that the medium is just as important as the message. We’ve seen gripping films about Facebook and tedious films about talking lions who battle pirates; no matter how good the source material, central ideas or real-life inspiration may be, it all comes down to the talent of the storytellers. Ultimately, The Cup is not even as rousing a sports movie as Real Steel (a film which is not based on historical events, but rather, a board game in which toy robots punch each other).

At least Stephen Curry can walk away with his head held high; he brings his famous, relaxed charm to Damien Oliver, also adequately playing distraught when he learns of his brother’s untimely passing. Brendan Gleeson almost literally phones in a number of sequences from Ireland, but is innately charismatic as Media Puzzle’s trainer Dermot Weld (who, for reasons never explained, believes Damien is the only rider that can successfully tame his horse). The rest of the cast don’t fare quite so well. Daniel MacPherson – as fellow jockey Jason – is not in the film nearly enough to fully establish his unbreakable fraternal bond with Curry. Beloved local identities like Tom Burlinson, Shaun Micallef, Martin Sacks and Colleen Hewitt (as the painfully underwritten matriarch of the Oliver family) struggle with Wincer and Eric O’Keefe’s cliché-ridden and paint-by-numbers screenplay. And the less said about Jodi Gordon – as Damien’s partner Trish – the better.

Wincer knows how to shoot a horse – this is his umpteenth equine-centric film over the course of his forty-year career – and the racing scenes are somewhat impressive, but you’d be forgiven for assuming The Cup had been made for TV screens. Instead of a score, we’re treated to a series of musical cues to let us know where in the world we are (‘Ireland? Let’s hear a jig! Saudi Arabia? Here’s some snake-charming music!’). Black and white flashbacks to the Oliver brothers as little boys is cringe-worthy to the extreme. There is a laziness to the storytelling and execution that better befits a long-running soap opera rather than a film. Events and emotional revelations are communicated in an almost begrudging manner, as if our expectations for an interesting, visually stimulating or moving, transcendent cinematic experience are unreasonable, and we should merely be grateful that we’re getting to see this story laid out in as literal and unimaginative way possible.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

The Cup arrives in Australian cinemas October 13, 2011.

5 Responses to “Race for the prize – The Cup review”

  1. Well just reading the comments, I want to see it anyway. I admire our Aussie actors and will always support them. One cannot always rely on other peoples revies, so bring it on.Barb Wain

  2. Hmmm sounds like I’ll take a pass on this one. I’ll be here just waiting for someone to make an Australian movie that’s not about animals, sports, or animals in sports.

  3. well I saw the cup and ejoyed it I never listen to reviews as we all have different tastes i found this film to be a tear jerker

  4. I desperately want the DVD of this movie for my husband’s birthday on the 8th of April. Any possibility to buy it?

    I am also looking for the book Pocket Power. Maybe you can help me.


    Hermien Truter

  5. Sorry my email address was typed incorrectly!!! Looking for the DVD of The Cup about horse racing and a book called Pocket Power.

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