For the first time in what seems like ages I have had time to sit down and watch a movie at home. I thought I would combine it with a long overdue entry into my “Groovers Video Vault” series. If you scroll down you will see my last article where I suggested Kathryn Bigelow should direct the next Bond movie, and furthermore she should make it a dumb action movie. One of the commenter’s suggested “Bigelow just doesn’t work well in that area. She’s tried it several times before and ultimately failed with most of it” he goes on to suggest that the closest she came was Point Break but suggested that it was “just decent, nothing great”. I’m glad to report that I stand by my original assessment that not only does Bigelow do dumb action, but she does the best dumb action. Point Break, is dumb but it the best made and most fun dumb ever, in other words, it is great.
On his first day in the LA field office, rookie FBI Agent and former star college quarterback Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) is partnered with veteran maverick agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey). The pair are hunting a gang of bank robbers known as the Ex-Presidents (they were masks of former Presidents Reagan, Carter, Nixon and Johnson during robberies) who have robbed thirty banks in three years without the authorities coming close to catching them. Following Pappas’ theory that the Ex-Presidents are surfers Utah goes undercover finding a way in through troubled surfer girl Tyler (Lori Petty).
There is a moment that comes to all surfers when they wipe-out and as they surface a big wave crashes down on them with such ferocity that they are pushed back under water. The power of the wave counters the bodies natural buoyancy and they don’t know witch way is up. I’m glad to report when this happened to me, I worked it out and came found my way to the surface before running out of air. This is the situation Utah finds himself in and it is this central relationship between his character and Bodie (Patrick Swayze) the leader of the Ex-Presidents that forms the heart of Point Break. This relationship is far more important than his interactions with Pappas and Tyler or even the relationships between the members of the Ex-Presidents. The overriding theme of the movie is Utah getting too deep and too close to Bodie to be blinded to his guilt, but look deeper and you will see from early on that it is Bodhi that sees something in Utah that he is attracted to something in his character. The only character who sees this is Tyler.
As you would expect of a Kathryn Bigelow it has a Visual Style that sets it apart from other movies of the genre. This is helped by the locations used, forgoing recognisable LA imagery and sticking with coastal towns making it that little bit different to the norm. Littered with quotable lines and fun references it actually has a far better script than it is ever given credit for. The casting is perfected Matthew Broderick, Johnny Depp, Val Kilmer and Charlie Sheen were all considered for Johnny Utah, but Keanu Reeves totally nails it, as Ben Harp (John C. McGinley) describes the character as “a real blue flame special – Young, dumb and full of come” as much as Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, it is the movie that galvanised Reeves’ image. As an action star famed for doing his own stunts Patrick Swayze was the perfect choice for Bodhi. He takes it a stage further giving depth to the character and having the crazed look in his eyes that few actors (Mel Gibson and Jack Nicholson?) can pull off. Gary Busey, himself the star of one of the greatest surf movies ever, manages to provide both gravitas and comic relief
But all this is secondary, it’s the action that the movie is all about. The surf photography is good as is the skydiving. The best scene, and one that has been imitated may times happens back on terra firma. The foot chase through back streets (and peoples houses) is perfectly executed and comes as a surprise when you are expecting a car chase. Equally well handled is the raid on the other gangs house and the bank robberies. It is also worth remembering that all the action is integral to the plot of the movie, this gives it a stable grounding that helps us invest in the action the same way we do in the characters.
As fun now as it was when I saw it two decades ago, action movies don’t come much better than this. For those that see Point Break as a guilty pleasure, come out and declare your love for it, you may just find you are not alone. Those who haven’t seen it, take a look, it is a true classic of the genre.