Streamline has all of the ingredients of being a compelling drama, with Levi Miller excelling as the conflicted protagonist. However, it becomes a film that needed more runtime to allow a packed narrative moments to breathe and find itself. Regardless though, this is a solid debut for writer-director Tyson Wade Johnson.
Benjamin Lane (Levi Miller) is an introverted and gifted young swimmer on the brink of qualifying for the Olympics. Pushed by his ruthless coach, Glen (Robert Morgan) and his sacrificial mother, Kim (Laura Gordon). It’s unclear if he wants the life he’s seemingly being forced to pursue. When his enigmatic and estranged father (Jason Isaacs) is released from prison and tries to repair their damaged relationship, Benjamin struggles under physical and psychological pressure and begins to self-destruct.
Johnson’s focus on the frailty of masculinity is fascinating in Streamline. We see how Benjamin’s coach Glen has tried to take on the paternal mantel that his father left and, in doing so, has overegged it. With his half-brothers; we see men who have failed in improving their lives and are willing to bring down their younger siblings to be with them. When we finally get to his father; we see a man who had all the power and control in the world. But being unable to be the man his family needed him to be, he broke in a violent manner. Now he is just a broken man who has caused terrible damage to his family.
All of these men are used as stepping- stones in allowing Benjamin to discover himself, to discover who he needs to be for him. Not who has been moulded into becoming because of his fractured environment. This is where the film works best, and it is in those emotional and tender moments that it is a heartfelt piece.
That said, with Streamline, it always feels as if it is trying to cram far too much into such a short runtime. Becoming one of those films that actively needed that extra half an hour to let itself breathe. If the film were more centrally focused on Benjamin’s indecision on whether he wants to continue the career everyone has set out for him, it would be fine. Even adding in the complex relationship with his father adds another welcome dimension. Yet, as it veers into his self-destruction, it loses what worked so well at the start.
From the outside looking in, it almost comes across as a confidence issue. As if there was suddenly a need to add more conflict to keep our attention when it was already earned. It truly is a shame as well, as there is so much to like about Streamline. But with it being so busy, it and you never settle in and enjoy it for the potentially good drama that it should be. Worst of all, adding in so many difficult scenarios for Benjamin to overcome. The film never allows itself to go deep into the pressures of teenagers in sports or the effects of family domestic abuse on children. Streamline shines most when these are mentioned, but they have been brushed aside far too often due to how much is going on.
Miller does some strong work as the troubled Benjamin, a boy who is pulled from pillar to post emotionally. Does he continue swimming to keep his mother and, by extension, coach happy, people who have given up so much for him? Or does he take a path that he feels is right for him? How does he cope with the re-emergence of his father, a man who has caused so much pain in his life? There is a lot here for the young actor to grapple with, doing so effortlessly. His performance continually drives the film forward; regardless of how you feel about the packed narrative, you want to see how it ends because of Miller.
Isaacs is not nearly in the film enough, though his presence is massively felt when he is, which begs the question of why he wasn’t utilised more. As always, he gives an assured performance that allows Millar to bounce off. Their scenes sizzle with raw tension as we get closer to the finale. The rest of the cast fit perfectly into their roles, with accomplished performances throughout.
There is a lot to like about Streamline, but by not scratching the surface of its topic enough and plying so much conflict into 80 minutes, the film never allows itself to come up for a breath.
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