Point Break

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 AnnEndicott), 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 relationshipbetween the two. Even if they don't actually meet face-to-face until the last act, the cop andthe robber engage in a complicated relationship throughout the movie, although thatrelationship is often mediated through tracking clues, chasing, and running. The best moviesof this sort make us realize that, when it all boils down, there is little difference between thecop and the robber except on which side of the law each stands. Kathryn Bigelow'sPoint Break takes this understanding to an extreme length, positing a relationshipbetween 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 footballquarterback who was sidelined with a career-busting knee energy, he is now a 25-year-oldrookie fresh out of the academy at Quantico, assigned to the bank robbery unit in LosAngeles and partnered with a cynical, 22-year veteran agent named Angelo Pappas (GaryBusey). Utah is determined, but inexperienced, and you can sense that he has grand andnaive 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 moreunlikely in that he is an enlightened surfing guru named Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), a persistentwanderer who has dedicated his life to "fighting the system" and searching for the "ultimateride." Bodhi is the head of a foursome of surfers who rob banks under the guise of "TheEx-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 haverobbed 28 banks in three years and left behind virtually no clues. There are consummateprofessional criminals, in and out of the banks in 90 seconds, restricting themselves only tothe cash drawers so as not to risk capture by spending too much time in the bank. No onehas any idea who they are, but Pappas has a theory that they are surfers who rob banksduring 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 ashot.

Thus, he goes undercover on the beaches of Southern California as a surf bum, trying tolearn 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 intothe enlightened ideology of Bodhi and his surfer followers. He is warned by Tyler (LoriPetty), a young female surfer (and Bodhi's ex-girlfriend) whom he befriends and eventuallyfalls in love with. She tells him that Bodhi will take him to the edge and past it because hecan 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 theyput that mindset into action in vastly different ways. It's important to keep in mind thespiritual connection between these two men because it explains a great deal of what happensin the last third of the movie, when Utah essentially becomes part of Bodhi's gang while stilltrying to bring him down. Some of it seems ludicrous and illogical at first, but the screenplayby W. Peter Iliff (Patriot Games) rationalizes Utah's decisions by showing howdifficult 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 socompletely sure of himself and his own position in the world that it is next to impossible notto be swayed by him. He is a born leader, and his criminality is based in ideology, notsomething as banal as greed or worldly ambition. To him, robbing banks is just another stabat finding "the ultimate ride," no different than tackling enormous waves or jumping out ofan 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 tospecialize in action movies. She brings to her movies a slightly different sensibility than mostrun-of-the-mill action flicks because her movies are always about ideas. She has an engagingway of injecting new life into old genres, whether that be the vampire movie in her debutNear Dark (1987) or the cop movie in Blue Steel (1990).

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

Point BreakDVD

AudioDolby Digital 4.1 Surround
DTS 4.1 Surround
Dolby 2.0 Surround
LanguagesEnglish (DD& DTS 4.1, 2.0), French (2.0)
Supplements Featurette
Two original theatrical trailers
Distributor20th CenturyFox

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

Both the Dolby Digital and the DTS 4.1 surroundsoundtracks sound excellent. The tone is set right at the beginning during the opening creditssequence, as Mark Isham's mystical score swells to the heightened sounds of a surfer cuttingthrough waves early in the morning. The sound effects are nicely spaced out in the surroundchannels 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-YearStorm comes crashing through your speakers at full throttle.

The supplements on this disc are light, consisting of twooriginal theatrical trailers and a making-of featurette that is the very definition of fluff. Barelythree and a half minutes long, it is essentially another trailer with about 45 seconds ofinterview 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 JohnnyUtah would say, it's disappointing, definitely.

©2001 James Kendrick

Overall Rating: (3.5)

James Kendrick

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