Two men from vastly different walks of life have one goal in common: to win gold. But, there are a few things in their way. One man’s marriage is on the verge of collapse, while the other is on the run from the law. They’ve also never competed as a team. Somewhere along the current of their lives, there’s a confluence of events that changes both of them.
The South African film industry is currently experiencing a sharp upswing with regard to overall quality. Even mediocre films nowadays, for the most part, are coherently written and decently shot. Beyond the River is a great example of how to tell a true-life story with genuine heart, while still addressing all the racial complexities of South Africa.
The fact that director Craig Freimond, who also co-wrote the screenplay, was brave enough to not shy away from the vast racial inequalities in SA as an underlying issue is commendable. The way the film addresses these issues also never feels preachy and is done in a smart way.
The two leads of the film, Lemogang Tsipa (Duma) and Grant Swanby (Steve), have spectacular chemistry and Tsipa’s charisma shines throughout the film. Swanby has most of the emotional scenes in Beyond the River and he delivers an award-winning performance.
The cinematography of this film is also spectacular, from the close-ups of the canoeing to the sweeping, wide shots of the rivers and landscapes. This film is absolutely beautiful. It’s been a while since I’ve walked out film and had vivid images running around in my mind afterwards.
The screenplay is also something that all South African screenwriters should view this as a template of how to deal with exposition properly. There’s never a scene where the characters explain things through tedious monologues. All the characters’ background information is given through smart dialogue and expertly place visual cues.
It really is refreshing to have screenwriters that do not treat their audience like idiots (I’m looking at you, Jagveld) and who give just enough information to put two and two together. The score is the film’s only weak point. The sound mixing is off on more than one occasion and the music is louder than the dialogue. The choice of music is also very questionable in parts.
Overall, Beyond the River is a film that all South Africans should see.
This heartfelt story of two men from different worlds, coming together with a common goal in mind, might be a tried and test formula. However, the stellar writing and brilliant directing take Beyond the River to another level.
If you want a feel-good movie that showcases the best part of being South African, then Beyond the River is not to be missed.