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Tragic aquanarrative Surfs into Souls of viewers

By Sammy Kozimor
posted April 20, 2011

Hobbies often cost an arm and a leg, or perhaps just an arm. Sean McNamara (Raise Your Voice, The Even Stevens Movie) has risen to the challenge of directing a film dealing with the tragic story of surfer Bethany Hamiltonís loss of a limb, Soul Surfer. On the surface, the story strives to inspire people to realize their dreams regardless of circumstances. However, the movie suffers from a lack of depth. The screenwriters minimized the amount of time and effort it actually took for Hamilton to regain her former status as a top level surfer, making it look a little too easy to surf with one arm. Nevertheless, if searching for an inspirational film to enjoy with the family, Soul Surfer will surely top the list.

Surfer is the true story of Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb, Bridge to Terabithia), a teenage surfer girl from Kauai, Hawaii who loses an arm in a shark attack, but continues to go after her dream of becoming a professional. The story unfolds as Hamilton is training for a competition; she spends every spare minute in and around the water. Her family is supportive of her dream to become a professional surfer. During a morning training session with her friend/competitor Alana (Lorraine Nicholson, Click) and her friendís family, a shark dines on Hamiltonís board, taking her arm for some fleshy flavor.

With an all-star cast, the audience has certain expectations about the film before even sitting down to watch it, and this cast doesnít disappoint. Robb uses her heartfelt performance as Hamilton to establish herself as a commanding actress. In her desire to depict the teenager accurately, Robb conducted research on the real Hamiltonís life and experience before tackling the difficult role. Cheri Hamilton (Helen Hunt, Twister) is Bethanyís mom, a former surfer who home schools her daughter and Alana so they can spend extra time surfing. Hunt has a calming demeanor throughout and maintains a cool head during even the most intense moments. She has spent the past several years working behind the camera on her directorial debut, but she hasnít lost any of the characteristics that allow her to transform easily into any character she plays.

Dennis Quaid (Vantage Point) is believable as Tom, Bethanyís father, coach and a former surfer as well. He pushes Bethany to reach her potential, and refuses to give up on the dream of her becoming a top level surfer. The chemistry between Quaid and Hunt convinces the audience that they really are Bethanyís parents. Both have experience playing the role of parents in other films, as well as in real life. Country music singer-songwriter Carrie Underwood, in her acting debut, fits surprisingly well into her part as Sarah Hill. Hill is a missionary who provides both support and a diversion to Bethany by taking her to Phuket, Thailand after her accident to help victims of a tsunami. It is here that Bethany realizes the importance of helping others who have lost literally everything, which helps her to heal.

One of the highlights of the film is the gorgeous scenery of Hawaii. The audience can actually feel the exuberance of waiting for the perfect wave, and riding it with intensity and exhilaration. The addition of a night surfing scene is unnecessary for the storyline, but it enhances the visuals and will make anyone want to head for the islands. The filmmakers hold nothing back with their use of special effects to make the shark attack look authentic, as well as the remains of Hamiltonís gored appendage. A green sleeve was put on the left arm of Robb, so it could be digitally altered later in the editing process.

Like other movies based on true survival stories, such as Danny Boyleís 2010 Oscar-nominated 127 Hours, Soul Surfer gives the audience a peek into reality. The audience can visualize what happened to Bethany before, during and after the event that changed her life forever. The audience will literally have to imagine Hamiltonís ascension back to the top after her accident, as McNamara does a poor job chronicling Hamiltonís rough road to recovery. However, it is quite easy to look past this shortcoming to find the inspirational message that despite a life-altering tragedy, a person can still triumph and realize their dreams.


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