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Point Break
Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Screenplay: W. Peter Iliff (story by Rick King & W. Peter Iliff)
Stars: Patrick Swayze (Bodhi), Keanu Reeves (Johnny Utah), Lori Petty (Tyler Ann Endicott), Gary Busey (Angelo Pappas), John C. McGinley (Ben Harp), James LeGros (Roach), John Philbin (Nathanial), Bojesse Christopher (Grommet)
MPAA Rating:R
Year of Release: 1991
Country: USA
Point Break Poster

In one way or another, cops-and-robbers movies have always been about the relationship between the two. Even if they don't actually meet face-to-face until the last act, the cop and the robber engage in a complicated relationship throughout the movie, although that relationship is often mediated through tracking clues, chasing, and running. The best movies of this sort make us realize that, when it all boils down, there is little difference between the cop and the robber except on which side of the law each stands. Kathryn Bigelow's Point Break takes this understanding to an extreme length, positing a relationship between a cop and a robber that is intimate, if not spiritual.

The cop is a rookie FBI agent named Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves). An ex-college football quarterback who was sidelined with a career-busting knee energy, he is now a 25-year-old rookie fresh out of the academy at Quantico, assigned to the bank robbery unit in Los Angeles and partnered with a cynical, 22-year veteran agent named Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey). Utah is determined, but inexperienced, and you can sense that he has grand and naive dreams of being a conventional hero who always gets the bad guy in the end.

If the cop in Point Break is something of a cliche, the robber is somewhat more unlikely in that he is an enlightened surfing guru named Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), a persistent wanderer who has dedicated his life to "fighting the system" and searching for the "ultimate ride." Bodhi is the head of a foursome of surfers who rob banks under the guise of "The Ex-Presidents," so named because they commit their crimes behind rubber masks of Reagan, Carter, Nixon, and LBJ.

When the movie opens, the FBI is confounded by the work of the Ex-Presidents, who have robbed 28 banks in three years and left behind virtually no clues. There are consummate professional criminals, in and out of the banks in 90 seconds, restricting themselves only to the cash drawers so as not to risk capture by spending too much time in the bank. No one has any idea who they are, but Pappas has a theory that they are surfers who rob banks during the summer in order to finance their travels around the world for the rest of the year, searching out the best waves. The rest of the FBI thinks this theory is a joke, but Utah, inexperienced, eager, and lacking the cynicism of the other agents, is willing to give it a shot.

Thus, he goes undercover on the beaches of Southern California as a surf bum, trying to learn the lingo and the moves so he can fit in and find out who is behind the rubber masks. What starts out as a conventional undercover story takes a turn when Utah gets sucked into the enlightened ideology of Bodhi and his surfer followers. He is warned by Tyler (Lori Petty), a young female surfer (and Bodhi's ex-girlfriend) whom he befriends and eventually falls in love with. She tells him that Bodhi will take him to the edge and past it because he can see that Utah has that "kamikaze look." "Bodhi can smell it a mile away," she says.

In this sense, Bodhi and Utah are truly kindred spirits--they share the same mindset, but they put that mindset into action in vastly different ways. It's important to keep in mind the spiritual connection between these two men because it explains a great deal of what happens in the last third of the movie, when Utah essentially becomes part of Bodhi's gang while still trying to bring him down. Some of it seems ludicrous and illogical at first, but the screenplay by W. Peter Iliff (Patriot Games) rationalizes Utah's decisions by showing how difficult it becomes for him to get out from under Bodhi's spell.

As portrayed by Patrick Swayze, Bodhi is a brilliant, enticing charmer, a man who is so completely sure of himself and his own position in the world that it is next to impossible not to be swayed by him. He is a born leader, and his criminality is based in ideology, not something as banal as greed or worldly ambition. To him, robbing banks is just another stab at finding "the ultimate ride," no different than tackling enormous waves or jumping out of an airplane. For Bodhi, it's just another way to show that human spirit is still alive.

Point Break was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, one of the few female directors to specialize in action movies. She brings to her movies a slightly different sensibility than most run-of-the-mill action flicks because her movies are always about ideas. She has an engaging way of injecting new life into old genres, whether that be the vampire movie in her debut Near Dark (1987) or the cop movie in Blue Steel (1990).

Bigelow has a sure hand in directing action sequences, and Point Break is full of them, from a breathless point-of-view foot race through the back alleys of a Santa Monica suburb, to the numerous bank robberies that give you a palpable sense of being right in the middle of the danger, to the breathtaking skydiving sequences. Yet, despite the technical merit, these action sequences would not stand out were they not integrated into a narrative that gave us a true sense of what is at stake. Point Break is largely about Utah's split personality--those two dueling halves that tear him between his duty to upholding the law and his desire to fall under Bodhi's inviting wing. This is the central tension that holds the movie together, and it comes together in a perfectly pitched final sequence during a major storm on an Australian beach, where the two kindred spirits come together one last time, and Utah makes his final decision.

Point Break DVD

Aspect Ratio2.35:1
Audio Dolby Digital 4.1 Surround
DTS 4.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
LanguagesEnglish (DD & DTS 4.1, 2.0), French (2.0)
SubtitlesEnglish, Spanish
Supplements Featurette
Two original theatrical trailers
Distributor20th Century Fox

Point Break has been given a new anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer that looks great. Say what you will about the plot and characters, but it is hard to argue that this is a visually dazzling action movie with an expansive color palette and fantastic camera work. The transfer brings out the textured details of the images--just look at the silky, slow-motion rippling of the ocean surface during the opening credits sequence. Colors are vibrant and dead-on, from golden sunsets to the many night scenes that feature an excellent black level and sharp gradations of blue and white.

Both the Dolby Digital and the DTS 4.1 surround soundtracks sound excellent. The tone is set right at the beginning during the opening credits sequence, as Mark Isham's mystical score swells to the heightened sounds of a surfer cutting through waves early in the morning. The sound effects are nicely spaced out in the surround channels to create an enveloping effect, and imaging and directionality are also well-utilized. The low-end is used sparingly until the final sequence, in which the mythical Fifty-Year Storm comes crashing through your speakers at full throttle.

The supplements on this disc are light, consisting of two original theatrical trailers and a making-of featurette that is the very definition of fluff. Barely three and a half minutes long, it is essentially another trailer with about 45 seconds of interview footage with director Kathryn Bigelow and stars Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Lori Petty, and Gary Busey, each of whom gets to say about two sentences. As Johnny Utah would say, it's disappointing, definitely.

Overall Rating: (3.5)

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