I’ll be perfectly honest, I was a bit hesitant to watch Katheryn Bigelow’s 1991 film Point Break, as I’m not a huge fan of either The Hurt Locker and especially not Zero Dark Thirty. However, in the spirit of kicking off this blog with its first Female Filmmaker Friday (even though this is being posted on a Sunday), I decided it would be a good opportunity to focus on a female director who is notorious for breaking genre conventions.
Point Break follows FBI recruit Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) and verteran officer Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) and their investigation into a string of bank robberies. Based on Pappas’ theory that the robberies are being perpetrated by a group of local surfers, Utah goes undercover in order to infiltrate the group and gain information. With the assistance of Tyler (Lori Petty), a seasoned female surfer, Utah learns to surf and quickly becomes enraptured by surfing, as well as beginning a deep friendship with local surfer, Bodhi (Patrick Swyaze). However, their relationship begins to fracture as Utah suspects that Bodhi and the other surfers are the perpetrators of the string of robberies.
While I was somewhat expecting the film to fall into the traditional buddy-cop-action-movie genre that permeated the late 1980s and early 1990s with movies like the Lethal Weapon series, the most significant relationship in the movie is not that between Reeves and Busey, but rather between Reeves’ clean-cut, officer Utah, and Swayze’s new-age surfer Bodhi. The undercurrent of homoeroticism between the two characters is impossible to ignore, considering that their story arc is written much like that of a romantic couple: clean cut boy meets manic pixie surf boy, CCB finds MPSB and his ways intriguing, CCB and MPSB take a tumble on the beach and MPSB reveals that he’s always been intrigued by CCB and his traditionally masculine role as the college quarterback, MPSB invites CCB back to his house, CCB suspects MPSB is the gang leader of a bank robbery crew and their relationship becomes strenuous…well, maybe that last part is slightly different than most romantic comedies.
The acting in the film leaves much to be desired. Reeves’ affectation when delivering a crafted lie to Petty’s Tyler, in order to gain her trust and become part of the surfer’s inner circle, is so flat and unbelievable, that it’s a surprise the film didn’t end right there. While Swayze and Busey turn in better performances, this is not a film to watch if you’re looking for a master class in acting.
However, the highlight of the film is the unique action sequences, maybe of which were accomplished by the collaboration of Bigelow and cinematographer Donald Peterman’s stripped-down 35mm “Pogo Cam,” which allowed for the camera operator to shoot an on-foot chase sequence which hadn’t been seen in earlier action movies. In retrospect, it’s very clear to see the influence this had on both the cinematography and choreography of future action movie sequences.
Ultimately, Point Break is by no means a masterpiece of American cinema, but is a fun action movie that deviates from traditional action-genre conventions.