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MOVIE REVIEW: Soul Surfer

An inspirational story about surfer Bethany Hamilton

  • Soul Surfer
  • Soul Surfer
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Cool movie poster, horrible movie title. This is the best arm loss movie since 127 Hours, and it’s one of those rare times where you see “based on true events” in the opening credits, and you actually remember those events. Unfortunately, it had its share of cheesy scenes.

The narration, with all its religious talk, could be annoying at times. I gave a lot of that a pass, because we’re dealing with a teen girl. We were getting insight into her thoughts and she does talk often about her Christianity.

It may have felt like a TV movie at times, but with the great surf scenes and big named cast, it rose a little above that (but not much).

Dennis Quaid had the look (and physique) of an older surfer. He’s certainly keeping himself in better shape (mentally and physically) than his brother Randy. His wife, played by Helen Hunt (who surfs in real life), also had the look of an older surfer. Kevin Sorbo (Hercules) plays a friend of the family who helps save Bethany Hamilton from the shark. The cast is rounded out by characters played by Carrie Underwood, most famous for American Idol; and Lorraine Nicholson – most famous for being Jack’s daughter. Luckily for the filmmakers, AnnaSophia Robb is perfectly cast as Bethany Hamilton. She’s pretty, courageous, and not to melodramatic. She sounded like a teen when she needed to, and wise beyond her years in other scenes.

Craig T. Nelson (Coach) plays the doctor, and in a scene where he’s getting ready to do surgery on Quaid’s knee – but has to stop when they rush Bethany in – is the first of many scenes we start to question.

If you’re making a movie about a real person, you should keep the fictional aspects out. The story will be compelling enough. She takes a trip to Thailand to visit victims of the tsunami with her church. She has a nice interaction with a young victim. I’m guessing an entire movie of her in the hospital recovering would’ve been compelling enough.

The scenes with a TV show giving her a free prosthetic arm seemed forced.

When she signs an endorsement deal with Rip Curl right before the attack, and afterwards we see her sad as a friend does the Rip Curl photo shoot – had to wonder how incredibly preposterous that was. Rip Curl would’ve loved keeping her on board, as it was a huge story (and with the amount of product placement moments for their products, I’m guessing they stood by her side the entire time).

When a rival surfer still acts rude to her even after the shark attack, I started to doubt what I was seeing. When I saw Cinderella Man, I wondered if his big opponent, Max Baer, was as mean as the movie portrayed. I knew he had killed a few people in the ring, but after seeing the movie, I did some research. I found that one of the men who died fighting him, left behind a wife. Baer sent her money the rest of his life. And we wonder why the Baer family was so upset with how he was portrayed in the movie. I had read Roger Ebert’s review on Soul Surfer, and he asked how this rival surfer is going to like being billed as the villain. I decided, just like I did with Cinderella Man, to research this surfer and see how accurate they portrayed her character. Well, imagine my surprise to find out she’s a fictional. Really? The filmmakers didn’t think the movie was compelling enough, that they need a teen girl that bullies everyone in the water, even in the final competition when Bethany comes back to compete having only one arm. It was a poor decision to create such an unrealistic and unnecessary character.

I could’ve done with a lot less proselytizing and more talk on prosthetics. If I’m watching a movie about somebody that loses a limb, I’m curious as to what they discuss in terms of replacing it. I remember being fascinated by the scenes in The Fugitive when Harrison Ford is finding out from a doctor about all the various prosthetics.

The closing credits had real footage of Hamilton surfing and hanging out with her family. It was a nice touch.

This is the greatest story, but not a great movie. I wanted to like it more, but can only give it a C+.