Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) is a focused, up-and-coming surfer. Her parents Tom (Dennis Quaid) and Cheri (Helen Hunt), both surfers, support their daughter following her dream of becoming a professional. After a dramatic win at a tournament, Bethany lands a sponsor and can see her dream being realized.
Tragedy strikes when Bethany is attacked by a shark which rips off her left arm at the shoulder. A tenacious sort, Bethany recovers from the devastating loss and returns to the surf to claim her dream despite her disability.
Inspiring on Many Levels
This is a true story and it is an inspiring one on many levels. Bethany is a strong girl who overcomes tremendous odds. Her bravery and determination are nice to see. Robb displays a powerful female who is capable, talented and formidable while still being feminine. This is very uncommon to see on screen. All too often women in film are forced to drop their feminine sides when they are to be strong. They bulk up with sinewy muscles, pull their hair back and adopt masculine clothes (see any Michelle Rodriguez movie) and strut like they've shown up to kick butt. Fewer and fewer female characters display inner strength while maintaining their feminine stature. Let alone being allowed to act feminine without that behavior being shown as silly, frivolous or negative.
Another interesting point about this film is the display of the family's faith. The Hamiltons are Christians and their faith is a part of their daily lives. Often when the issue of faith is raised in a film such as this, it is an awkward exercise that swallows up the narrative. Here the displays of faith are mostly natural and rather subdued. Someone will say "we will pray for you" while another character leaves the room. Tom casually reads the Bible. The family consistently says grace before meals. These unobtrusive moments are what is needed in film.
Show the Lifestyle, Save the Sermon
Christian filmmakers too often feel they need to hammer faith into their audiences in order to make the point. I argue that through subtle displays of faith, showing prayer and concern for morality in casual moments will do more to help our culture than all of the hysterical Christian films ever made.
We learn our social mores from the Arts, in particular film. Why do you think homosexual activists specifically targeted the entertainment industry in the early seventies? They knew that the greater population learned what to think through what they watched on screens. Change the image, change their minds. Christians should learn from this. If we constantly see prayer, charity and forgiveness in film, if we see the Christian lifestyle rather than get a Christian sermon, we will slowly begin to see the culture improve.
I'm on a tangent - back to the movie.
Pleasant but Flawed
This is a pleasant film but it is flawed. The acting is very strong. AnnaSophia Robb has come into her own and easily carries the film. When I sat through her feature film debut BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE I found her to be grating. Then again, I loathe most child actors, so it may not be her fault. Robb has grown into a young woman and has found her voice. She is a strong lead and this production shows she is capable of handling much more.
In addition to Robb, Dennis Quaid, Heather Hunt and Kevin Sorbo also are notably good. While they aren't going to score Oscars, they do bring much to the production. Given the number of one-dimensional moments in the film, it would have been easy for these experienced actors to lay back and call it in. Each of these actors work with the material that is given to them and turn out some good performances.
The problem with the film is in its script. Seven people are credited with the screenplay and story. Seven. It takes less people to man the Space Shuttle than it did to write this movie.
The story is naturally interesting. People are fascinated by sharks (The Discovery Channel drags out SHARK WEEK every year for a reason) and the idea of getting one's arm bitten off is an attention getter. The problem with the script is that after the incident there is barely any real conflict. Bethany's recuperation is quickly resolved. She doesn't appear to have many residual psychological issues. She's not scared of sharks. She's not scared of the water. At worse she gets frustrated by trying to open a bread bag with one hand and eventually cries about not understanding God's plan for her.
Nothing to Grow Through
Without a vibrant conflict through which she can grow, there is very little to do until the final moments. She quickly heals, hops on the surfboard confidently and is off chasing her dream once again. Everyone around her stops to tell her how brave, strong and amazing she is. It is as if the film's central question is "Is Bethany simply awesome or is she super fantastic to boot?"
The script would have been helped by focusing closer on her family's reported troubles with their faith or possibly her natural concerns about her appearance and ability to surf. All of these items are either ignored or glossed over.
Despite the flawed script, I found this to be a mostly enjoyable, light film. People of faith will enjoy the production the most, and appreciate being taken seriously on screen. I think this would also be a good pick for families with young girls. Bethany Hamilton is a good role model and AnnaSophia Robb has done a wonderful job bringing her to the screen.
SOUL SURFER is rated PG for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material