Written by W. Peter Iliff
Directed by Kathryn Bigelow
Here’s the thing about Point Break, it’s not nearly as bad as you might have heard. For all of its ridiculous qualities like the presidential masks, a climax that involves skydiving, and Keanu Reeves playing a former college football star turned FBI agent named Johnny Utah, Point Break is still an achingly fun, tightly wound action thriller.
New to L.A., Johnny is assigned to the FBI’s bank robbery unit. He and his partner Angelo (Gary Busey at his nutty best) are assigned to catch a group of highly efficient bank robbers known as the ex presidents. Angelo’s theory is that they are group of tight knit surfers who leave town as soon as summer and surfing season is over. Johnny goes under cover as a lawyer searching for meaning and ends up falling in love with uninhibited surfer girl Taylor (Lori Petty), who introduces him to an existential thrill seeker named Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), who turns out to be the leader of the ex presidents.
Point Break is a fairly easy movie to decipher and that’s what makes it so great. Director Kathryn Bigelow doesn’t try to make the film what it isn’t. It’s far from high brow but it is easily one of the most effortlessly fun, tongue in cheek films ever made.
Point Break is smart, funny, cool and daring, and might be the first time that surfers aren’t the butt of the joke, but instead the brains behind an ingenious scheme. Bodhi isn’t an idiot, he’s the one who holds the entire group together. He recognizes that Johnny is just like him, an adrenaline junkie who wants answers to life. He doesn’t hate people because they are outsiders, instead he hates them because they don’t “understand the sea”. He’s not robbing banks for the money but because he wants to strike out at a system that “kills the human soul”.
Point Break benefits from having Kathryn Bigelow as director. She adds a weight to the film that holds it down in the more insane moments. She makes Johnny jumping out of an airplane without a parachute and catching Bodhi midair seem like a completely reasonable act. For all the beauty of the surfing scenes (Swayze performed many of his own stunts, including the skydiving and surfing), the two best action scenes are the ill fated nerve wrecking raid and the car and foot chase scene that follows shortly after.
Bigelow isn’t interested in directing a brainless action flick about pretty boys surfing. She’s interested in why they do what they do. She’s interested in Bodhi’s metaphysical reasoning behind robbing banks and finding the perfect wave. She’s interested in exploring why Johnny is so attracted to the lifestyle and why he’s able to fall so easily into it.
Reeves became famous for playing a brain dead surfer type in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and it’s an image that’s forever haunted his career. In Point Break he uses the surfer boy routine to his advantage and one of the greatest joys of the film is watching him shift from straight laced FBI newbie to adrenaline junkie surfer.
Point Break is a stripped down, unique and fresh take on the action genre, and easily one of Keanu Reeves best.