Let’s imagine you’re in your fifties, over weight, and drink a couple of bottles of wine a day (and maybe a whiskey or two). And let’s also imagine that you want to do something to inspire the world. I’m guessing you wouldn’t choose to swim 3,375 miles over just 65 days. And you certainly wouldn’t choose to swim all those miles in some of the world’s most dangerous water. Because that would be crazy.
Well Martin Strel decided to do just that. And he succeeded, accomplishing history’s longest swim. That’s the story that unfolds in Big River Man directed by John Maringouin. It’s a story about crazy characters. Martin Strel is qualified to make this swim. He’s swum the entire lengths of the Danube, Mississippi, and Yangtze rivers—all in an attempt to bring attention to the sorry state of our environment.
This is a movie about characters. Because not only is the idea crazy, but the way Martin goes about achieving this accomplishment is even wackier. The manager of the event is Martin’s son Borut. He’s smart, charming, totally dedicated to his father, and terrified by his father’s exploits. And then there’s the river guide. Let’s imagine you need a river guide to get you through the maze of tributaries that make up the Amazon. Maybe you’d choose an experienced local. Or maybe you’d choose a Walmart employee from Wisconson who doesn’t know how to use a GPS device. Martin Strel chose the Walmart employee.
Big River Man is an unbelievable story. The fact that I’ve never heard of Martin Strel surprises me. Borut has tried to get the story out, even pretending to be his father in phone interviews with media including the BBC. But many of the biggest media opportunities (like David Letterman and Jay Leno) have ignored the story.
The film making here is little rough. It made it hard to vote for this film because the story was so engaging while the craftsmanship was lacking. But in the end I gave this movie four stars, the most possible. That’s because even if the production values could have been better, it was a brave director who agreed to try and tell this amazing Amazon story.