The Melbourne Cup is known as “the race that stops a nation”. Since its inception, great stories have emerged from this famous horse race, run each year on the first Tuesday in November, but none had a more extraordinary effect on Australia than the running of the 2002 Melbourne Cup.
THE CUP is the story of the 2002 Melbourne Cup, seen mostly through the eyes of champion jockey Damien Oliver. What happened to Damien’s older brother Jason – also a jockey – is well known in this country, nonetheless, director Wincer has been able to create a moving version of those events.
There are two main narratives here; one is a relatable account of a tragedy that hits a family. The other is an examination of an iconic national event. There are times when the family story feels inadequately portrayed. Several of these moments are over-played and veer into soap territory. The first half of THE CUP is the weaker, from the mid-point onward scenes begin to gel and the film moves into its powerful final sequences. It is here the filmmaker’s experience becomes apparent.
Director Simon Wincer and THE CUP’s lead, Stephen Curry, have attempted to get the project up for a number of years. Apparently the financing fell through on two previous occasions. Curry went through the intense slim down regime to convincingly play Damian Oliver, three times in total. For both men, the project is clearly a labour of love.
Irish actor Brendan Gleeson is top-billed. He plays the Dermot Weld, the trainer of Media Puzzle, the horse Damien Oliver rode in The Cup. He isn’t given a great deal to do, but he pulls that off with his usual charisma and talent. This part of the story could be entitled “Marauding Paddies” . At one point Gleeson has a rather unlikely speech about being a cat-burglar and stealing The Cup from the Aussies. The Irish contingent is rounded out by The Man From Snowy River himself, Tom Burlinson. He jumps on a horse for a short scene and as you’d expect looks mighty convincing in the saddle.
Curry is well cast as Oliver. Although his skinny appearance is rather startling at times, he nails his role. This is a continuation of the fine dramatic form he has shown in the Graham Kennedy telemovie THE KING and the mini-series CLOUD STREET. He tackles both drama and comedy with apparent ease. Shaun Micallef is the other comedian in a serious role. He makes a decent fist of playing trainer Lee Freedman.
THE CUP is Australian director Simon Wincer’s latest feature film. Wincer has directed both here and in the United States. He is best known locally for PHAR LAP and internationally for FREE WILLY. His projects often feature animal characters and he is an expert at delivering solid action sequences. He is the maker of good traditional middle-of-the-road entertainment. THE CUP fits into this body of work. It isn’t a deep portrait but a snapshot of how many Australians like to see themselves; a laid-back nation of punters with a fierce determination to win in any race.
All the racing footage is extremely well staged, shot and edited. Wincer, apparently no slouch on the horse himself, absolutely understands how to shoot equine action for film. He gets some beautiful shots of horses in all situations, but he especially knows how to shoot them running at full gallop. Even if you’re not a horsey person (and I’m not) Wincer’s film gives you some feel of the power of the animal and the joy people have when they ride.
THE CUP is in Australian cinemas now. It runs for 106 minutes. I rated it 3/5
Check out Darran’s interview with Simon Wincer and Stephen Curry.