What’s an old-school Hollywood legend like Burt Lancaster doing on a label like Grindhouse Releasing? After viewing The Swimmer, I still don’t know. As odd as the 1968 obscurity is, it’s still too classy to be caught dead in a grindhouse theater. What matters ultimately is that it’s on Bluray at all.At once allegorical and existential, Frank Perry’s film follows tan-and-tone Ned Merrill (Lancaster, Field of Dreams) as he embarks on a countywide trip home via the swimming pools of his upturned-nosed neighbors. As he dips from lavish house to lavish house, visiting friends and lovers past and present, we learn more and more about Ned’s reasons for this exercise.
Upon first watch, The Swimmer can be confounding and challenging but never off-putting; the viewer is lulled into its martini-soaked world — as alien as that year’s Planet of the Apes — and goes with the flow, literal and otherwise. While the movie is not top-of-mind when one thinks of Lancaster, perhaps it should be; his performance is his best I’ve seen, and the ending packs an emotional wallop. — RL