Filmed under the title Swing, and also known as Heart of Champions, Pressure Point is an American sports movie that looks into the world of college rowing. It’s one of these strange films that has an overwhelmingly negative critical response on Rotten Tomatoes, yet a much more positive audience rating. Critics may have sound the subject un-engaging, but there’s more to Michael Mailer’s movie than might be expected. With Michael Shannon the draw as a tough rowing coach, and also executive producing, it’s a meaty true-story that follows a young team on their way to unlikely glory, but glory won at a price.
Jack Murphy (Shannon) is a hard-nut to crack; he’s been there, done that, and more, and his expertise is sought when an Ivy league college rowing team throw away a golden opportunity for a win over rivals Harvard. Murphy has to knock the team into shape for the National Championships, and his methods provide a spine for Vojin Gjaja’s script. Along the way, we get to see the character of the young men; The Hunger Games’ Alexander Ludwig plays a young man with father issues, while Chris (Charles Melton from Riverdale and The Sun is Also A Star) doesn’t want to be there at all. Murphy tries to draw out the motivations of each individual, and then fuse them into a winning machine.
Murphy eventually achieves his goal, but at a coast; Pressure Point is inspired by adversity, and the overcoming for a genuine tragedy. The film was set to be directed by Howard Deutch, whose work with John Hughes’s teenagers in the 80’s is fondly remembered, and Mailer’s film manages to similarly capture the young men’s fierce passions when it focuses on the infighting between the crew. For once, the female roles are developed, even if they’re not fully integrated, and the stakes rise beyond just winning; there’s personal issues to be decided.
Shannon has played so many malcontents and unhinged characters, it’s a pleasure to see him play a more straight-laced role, although Murphy’s aggressive attitude makes him compelling to watch. Ludwig and Melton both provide some heat, and the climax is rousing enough. With many of our current sports heroes tarnished by pandemic pressure, it’s something of a trip to get back to 1999 and see how this inspirational story develops. It may not be for pretentious cineastes, but those seeking a stirring dose of gritty uplift could do far worse that Pressure Point.
Signature Entertainment presents Pressure Point on UK Digital Platforms 7th February 2022.