Point Break is a 1991 film directed by Kathryn Bigelow starring Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze. The editing on the opening credits immediately clarifies the theme of the film without any need for dialogue: it’s a confrontation between a freedom-loving surfer (Bodhi, Patrick Swayze) and a brilliant federal agent (Johnny Utah, Keanu Reeves).
How does this fight unfold? Following all the clichés of crime action cinema of the early Nineties, but doing it damn well and giving us a cult movie that deserves this status without a doubt.
Utah arrives in Los Angeles fresh from the Academy and goes undercover in search of a gang of bank robbers (the Former Presidents) who should be surfers, according to his partner Pappas (played by the legendary Gary Busey). Utah finds love while surfing, the beautiful Tyler (Lori Petty), and also finds Bodhi, who’s anything but a one-dimensional villain. The story between the two is fascinating, with a mutual respect that develops through sessions of surfing, rugby, beach parties and parachute jumps.
Bigelow keeps an incredible pace all the time and shoots the action sequences with incredible craftsmanship. The film could not be more Nineties than this with all the rock music (even Jimi Hendrix) and clichés like the police captain shouting all the time (John C. McGinley), adrenaline chases and shootings, and all-testosterone duels between the protagonist and antagonist.
As mentioned, however, the movie is bloody well done and the film goes beyond the standards of those years set by the various Lethal Weapon (1987) and Beverly Hills Cop (1984). For example, in the finale (written by Kathryn Bigelow with her husband at the time, James Cameron) of course there’s a fist fight between Utah and Bodhi, but it doesn’t last long and the outcome is anything but obvious. Bodhi is allowed to chase the dream of a lifetime, to ride that giant wave that comes once every fifty years, with the tone of the movie that veers towards a melancholic and existentialist mood instead of choosing the usual, and easier, triumph of justice brought by the hero.
The tone of the movie, therefore, is closer to The Crow (1994) or Strange Days (1995) than to that of those other thriller of the time. And this is one of the many things that elevates Point Break. But there are others…
I’m thinking of the powerful scene of Utah firing at the sky after recognizing Bodhi under the mask of president after a spectacular chase between the houses of Los Angeles, which was re-enacted by Edgar Wright in Hot Fuzz (2007). And I laughed at Bodhi saying that he had owned a ’57 Chevy: it was Swayze’s car in Dirty Dancing (1987)! There’s also Anthony Kiedis, lead singer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, playing a member of a gang of neo-Nazi drug traffickers. And Tom Sizemore playing an undercover D.E.A. agent!
What more can I say… Thirty years after its release, it’s still one of the best action movies ever made, especially because post-2000, action films tend to exaggerate too much and become ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, Point Break isn’t entirely realistic: I don’t think anyone would jump out of a plane without a parachute with the hope of catching whoever jumped before him!
But what I’m saying is that within the film everything works, there’s a certain coherence, the world built by the characters is believable and in the end the spiritual side of surfing is very interesting, with the love for freedom (the final choice is between death and prison) and Bodhi’s relationship with Utah. In short, I would recommend watching this movie to everyone, its two hours literally fly by beauty and personally I’m unable to see any issue whatsoever (I admit that I’m not in the least objective in this case!). It could be different for you if you thought that “Nineties” is a negative label, but for me it’s not! Ciao!