Point Break

1991, Movie, R, 123 mins

Review

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There's something unmistakably alive in POINT BREAK. From our first glimpse of a surfer hovering through a cascading wave to the final sky-diving stunt, Kathryn Bigelow's fourth feature keeps offering us new thrills with unapologetic verve.

Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is an FBI agent fresh out of training. He has been sent to L.A. to work with the wild man of the squad, Pappas (Gary Busey). The two are assigned the case of the "Ex-Presidents," a group who hold up banks disguised as Reagan and his predecessors. Pappas has a hunch that the criminals are surfers who are financing their endless summer through these robberies. Utah goes willingly undercover and learns the art of surfing to track down the desperados. On his first attempt he meets Tyler (Lori Petty), a tough and decidedly un-blonde surfer chick. She guides Utah into an inner circle of surfing devotees that is presided over by the mystical Bodhi (Patrick Swayze).

Bodhi and his gang have a sacred relationship to surfing. "Riding is a state of mind ... it's a place where you lose yourself and find yourself." They're andrenaline junkies who like to risk their lives in all sorts of death-defying acts. Utah is immediately smitten with their lunatic antics and slowly begins to fall into their philosophy of taking things to the edge. Pappas meanwhile has zeroed in on a group of surf Nazi villains who are the prime suspects in the case. But will Utah be able to act objectively in bringing any surfer to justice now that he has discovered The Way of Surf?

POINT BREAK's plot is utter nonsense. But it doesn't matter a bit under Kathryn Bigelow's vigorous direction. She knows how to modulate the action scenes so that they top one another. When we arrive at the amazing final stunt Bigelow pulls out her biggest surprise yet and you might find yourself yelping in disbelief and pleasure as you watch it happen. She has gotten to the center of her material. She wants to show above all the adrenaline rush that her characters are addicted to. And she does it so well that the audience experiences its own rush. She uses the skills of her cinematographer Donald Peterman to perfection. The first surf sequence is shot slow enough so that we can see how the surfers bend their bodies to follow the motion of the wave. This sequence is so unworldly that it pushes the whole movie into an exciting unreality which it holds until the end.

Bigelow also makes good use of her actors. Swayze (DIRTY DANCING, GHOST) is superb as the surfer mystic. He's so completely within his gonzo character that he pulls off his dopey new-age lines with confidence. Who would have thought that Moondoggy from "Gidget" could be reincarnated for the 90s? Keanu Reeves (RIVER'S EDGE, BILL AND TED'S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE) makes a good foil for the mercurial Swayze. And Lori Petty (CADILLAC MAN) has a sexy and dignified presence as the love interest that gives the story another element of believability.

Bigelow also gives us a new and bold picture of L.A. culture. It's not the innocuous pink and orange world of the early 60s. It's become more toxic and frayed. With her cinematographer's able assistance, Bigelow turns the beaches into a chilly world of cobalt blue and pitch black. Her surfers are no longer good American boys but a jolting mixture of Dylan and Manson. The atmosphere of her L.A. is filled with details that give the movie extra dimension. And she doesn't drop her direction when the characters pick up guns and knives either. She keeps the psychology of her characters intact during the most violent sequences and it gives the action sequences an extra intensity. They seem palpably real. Vicariously, POINT BREAK lets us go off like a madman. (Excessive violence, nudity.) leave a comment

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