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Saturday, June 4, 2011

Movie Review: SOUL SURFER


Soul Surfer is a 2011 drama directed by Sean McNamara that tells the true story of Bethany Hamilton. When Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) was thirteen years old, she was an aspiring surfer who had dreams of becoming a professional. Tragedy struck, however, when she was attacked by a shark, losing her left arm in the process. Every hope and dream she and her family had of her future was thrown out the window as she began her gradual recovery from the attack. With the help of her parents Tom (Dennis Quaid) and Cheri (Helen Hunt), Bethany found her way back onto a surfboard, but as one can imagine, it became exponentially more difficult to maintain any semblance of skill. After a terrible run at a regional competition, Bethany decides to give up surfing, thinking everything in her life is lost. It ultimately takes a ministry trip to Thailand, which had recently been hit by a tsunami, to show her that she can use her skills and talents in another fashion.

I've wanted to watch this film ever since it hit theaters. I remember hearing about Bethany Hamilton's story when it became worldwide news in 2003. The fact that I also grew up around the ocean - albeit not to the extent that she did - also drew me to her story. So when I finally saw posters for Soul Surfer popping up at local theaters, I knew just what I'd be getting ready to see. Sadly, it garnered mixed reviews (it currently holds a 50% "fresh" rating on, so I was a little wary going into the film.

That being said, I can see why the reviews were mixed. It's a sappy and predictable tale, even if it is based off someone's real life. But sometimes sappy can be a good thing, and I think that it works very well for Soul Surfer. What I didn't know going into the film was that it was going to be relatively religious in nature. There's a strong dose of Christianity given throughout the film. Had I done a little research prior, I would have learned that Hamilton's autobiography is titled Soul Surfer: A True Story of Faith, Family, and Fighting to Get Back on the Board. Had I known about the faith element, I probably would've rushed even faster to the theaters to see this one. While I'm by no means the most staunchly religious man, I definitely have a deep connection with my faith, and I think that helped me relate to this film all the more. Even when I knew exactly what was going to happen, I still felt like I wanted to cling to everything that Bethany said and did because I knew she was grounded in her faith like I am.

The acting is also very good considering the type of film we receive. It's always great to see Dennis Quaid in anything, and although he's not the greatest actor ever to grace the screen, his presence can definitely help a flick. Add in Academy Award-winner Helen Hunt, and you've got yourself quite the dynamic duo as Bethany's parents. And what can I say about the young AnnaSophia Robb? She brings all the right emotions to her role, and she should definitely be applauded for doing so. It couldn't have been any easy role to create: it's based off a real person, and it involved going without the use of one of her limbs. That's not easy by anyone's standards. We also get a nice supporting role from Carrie Underwood as Bethany's youth minister and guiding light in her faith. Considering Underwood's own background, I'm sure this role was a piece of cake for her to fulfill. Also be on the lookout for a brief role from Craig T. Nelson as the family doctor.

Overall, Soul Surfer is sappy and predictable, but it carries a legitimate weight that's sure to convey itself to many an audience. It's a definite must-see for strongly religious individuals as well as anyone who has deep ties with surfing and the surfing community. The fact that it's a true story only adds to the power that the film can convey. Is it the best movie I've ever seen? No, not by a long shot. But it has easily become one of my guilty pleasures, and I think you might like it a little bit more than you might think.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B
1.5 Thumbs Up

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