Quick, without searching, who is Damien Oliver? No cheating! Any clue? To the likely many who don’t know, that’s the first sign that Simon Wincer’s awkward Oliver biopic The Cup might not translate to American audiences easily. Wincer immediately throws the audience into the world of Oliver, competitive horse-racing, and the Melbourne Cup without any warning. The film’s first third is difficult enough to follow with no prior knowledge of the events it covers. Damien Oliver (Stephen Curry) and his brother Jason (Daniel MacPherson) are Australian horse jockeys, following in the footsteps of their father who died in a tragic racing accident during their childhood. Damien has chosen an Irish horse, Media Puzzle, trained by Dermot Weld (Brendan Gleeson), and this is a big deal for some reason. Much of the early parts of the film are dedicated to Damien wandering around being famous and successful while buddying up with Jason.
Of course it’s well telegraphed that tragedy is afoot, so things start to meld into a standard, clichéd redemptive arc after an accident claims Jason’s life as Damien is preparing for the Melbourne Cup. Though the focus is considerably tightened at this point, the film that comes offers no surprises and is littered with problems with lazy exposition through televised news reports and a score so overbearing it nears parody. Speaking of parody, when Damien reaches his inevitable triumph, the film that came to mind was David Zucker’s Baseketball. Many in the States may still not know who Damien Oliver is after the film reaches his conclusion, but he probably deserves better than this by-the-numbers flick by principle.