You know that feeling when you are watching a film and you realize it is far better than you expected? Well, I had that feeling at the half way point of Point Break. The fantastic car/foot chase at the centre of this film got my adrenalin going – not just because it was brilliantly shot and edited, but because the bond that had been developed between the two key characters is unexpectedly put on the line in this scene.
Yes, the premise is a silly one, but the script is sharp (and funny), Bigelow handles most scenes very competently, and there are some great individual moments. The romantic subplot has been done to death, so watching this film this late in the game, meant that I was bored by the predictability of that subplot. The second half isn’t quite as engaging – more content to take the action into the air - and there is a significant shootout that fell a bit flat. But it does have Keanu Reeves jumping out of a plane without a parachute, and an ensuing aerial scuffle, and that is badass.Keanu Reeves plays Johnny Utah - one of his most iconic performances and the role that catapulted him onto the map – a clean-cut, highly skilled rookie FBI Agent, and former Ohio State quarterback. He teams up with a veteran partner, Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey), to track down a gang of bank robbers calling themselves the ‘Ex-Presidents’. They hide their identities during the robberies with masks of former Presidents, including ones of Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.
Pappas has a theory that the robbers are surfers, linking crime scene evidence to the wax used on surfboards, and pinning down a pattern in the robberies. He believes their low-risk robberies (which only ever take from the bank drawers) pay for their surfing excursions for the rest of the year – and suggests that Johnny go undercover and infiltrate the surfing community. He crosses waves with a strong-willed surfer girl, Tyler (Lori Petty), and persuades her to teach him her skills. Through Tyler, Johnny befriends Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), and his gang of thrill-seekers. Impressed by his athleticism, and sensing he is attracted to the kinds of rushes they seek on a daily basis – surfing, sky-diving, nights of partying…robbery? - Bodhi accept him in. He gradually falls under both Tyler and Bodhi’s spell, which influence his personal involvement in the case.
Swayze is great as the charismatic surfer dude, but it is the cameo performances that add to the charm of this film. Gary Busey is always welcomed on screen in my opinion – and though he is weary and underappreciated veteran of the bureau, his skills as a detective begin to shine through when matched with Utah’s youthful enthusiasm. John C. McGinley (Scrubs) is always good comedic value, this time mixing it with a bit of venom as the FBI Director. Lee Tergesen (Oz), Chris Pedersen (Platoon), Anthony Keidis (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and an unaccredited Tom Sizemore (Heat) make surprising appearances along the way.
Reeves is excellent as our protagonist, perhaps not in depth of expression or delivery, but looking the part both as a tight-knit upstart of the FBI willing to tackle anything, and as the adventurous thrill-seeker seduced by the care-free life of his new acquaintances. It is a story of getting in too deep. The testosterone rush of placing his life on the line in new and exciting ways, only to find it placed on the line when his undercover life and his obligation to the case start to cross paths, seduces him.
Though things get a bit wild in the second half – and stretches the boundaries of plausibility – the film never ceases to be energetically shot. The surfing captures are extraordinarily, the skydiving captures exhilarating, and the action - whether immersed in the robbery sequences, or fast tracking through the foot chase – is full of energy. I regret allowing so much time to pass before watching Point Break. There were several scenes that left me in awe, and it was much more entertaining than I expected. I look forward to seeing more from Kathryn Bigelow (Strange Days notably) in the not-too-distant future.
My Rating: ★★★1/2 (B)