Culture: Film

Film review: Chasing Mavericks

Gerard Butler and Jonny Weston in Chasing Mavericks

Stuart Wren finds that new surfing movie Chasing Mavericks is likely to sink without a trace.

Surfing movies have hardly been box office gold. I can only think of a handful of films that actually made an impression: Endless Summer (the 60s documentary), Big Wednesday, Apocalypse Now and Point Break (although the latter two only had a passing interest in surfing). So it was no surprise that when Chasing Mavericks was released in the US, in October of last year, it sank without a trace. It’s easy to see why this troubled film didn’t hit home. It’s based on the true story of Jay Moriarty, a young man who became a household name in the surfing community, but plays more like The Karate Kid in the ocean.

As a boy, Jay Moriarty is saved from certain death after falling into the sea by passing surfer Frosty Hesson. Years later and the experience has drawn Jay back to the water, only this time he is trying to emulate his saviour as a surfer. When he discovers that the legendary Mavericks surf breaks exist not far from where he lives, he turns to Frosty to train him to ride them. Frosty is adamant that if he is to do this he will do so correctly and puts Jay through a punishing training regime that will either make or break the young boy. Meanwhile, Jay has to cope with various changes in his life, from a mother who is on self destruction, to a girl he loves and a best friend riddled with jealousy. His focus, however, remains on breaking the Mavericks.

As with all surfing movies, the stars of the show are the waves and the experts who ride them. The sequences on the water are breathtaking, with glorious cinematography from Bill Pope and newcomer Oliver Euclid. The problems arrive when the film is on dry land, laboured by a heavily cliched script from Kario Salem. Jay cannot just train for his greatest moment, he has to be put through the wringer with all kinds of emotional problems and a mentor that acts like a hippie version of Mr Miyagi.

Directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted (Apted took over the final three weeks of principal shooting after Hanson was taken ill), are both highly respected film makers and have worked on some extraordinary films: Hanson was responsible for LA Confidential and Apted made, among other things, Gorillas In The Mist and The World Is Not Enough. Yet this outing is tiresome and often plodding and relies on contrived storytelling in order to move the plot along.

The performances are fine. Elizabeth Shue, one of the most underrated actresses around (and, interestingly enough, the girlfriend in the original Karate Kid), is given hardly anything to do except roll around in bed groaning and made to look rough (even though it’s hard to do), as Jay’s mother. Jonny Weston makes an appealing Jay, a man determined to accomplish his dream regardless of what it takes. The other saving grace is Gerard Butler, proving his weight as an actor, even if the dialogue is far too preachy.

As the wise sage, Frosty, Butler conveys a man who has his own passions and dreams, some of which have never fully been explored. He doesn’t have to be all macho and rarely has to shout his lines like he has done in the past. Butler is a good actor (he proved that quite well in the British drama Dear Frankie), and isn’t often given the chance to show he is more than just another beef-head action star who pops up in dire romantic comedies. It’s a shame that he has to work with a script that has him delivering life-affirming lines that mean very little. Butler almost died making this, during a surfing sequence when he was hit on the head by an enormous wave.

The high-point of the film is the final 15 minutes, when Jay has to face his challenge. Here the emotions are pushed right to the limit and for those few moments you find yourself drawn into this watery world, once again due to the fantastic cinematography. Unfortunately, everything leading up to this moment is rather tedious and, ultimately, I can see this going the same way that it did in America: few people turning up and seeing it.

Chasing Mavericks is on general release

Words: Stuart Wren


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