Soul Surfer glimpses faith and rapture in the comeback story of surfer Bethany Hamilton. Hamilton lost her left arm in a 2003 shark attack in Hawaii.
A born “mermaid,” Hamilton rides mighty waves and swoops through funnels of moving water. Just one month after the catastrophe, the 13-year-old returned to the ocean, dreaming of going pro. “It was my own personal tsunami,” Hamilton writes in her book Soul Surfer.
The Hollywood-styled drama features magnificent cinematography by John Leonetti (Insidious; Piranha; The Mask). Every wave comes to life, revealing surfers’ athleticism and skill.
Doubles including Hamilton performed most of the surfing. Cameras were mounted on surfboards and jet skis. Filming took place in Hawaii at Turtle Bay Resort, Sunset Beach, Makaha and Waimea Bay.
Robb’s fine portrayal
AnnaSophia Robb (Race to Witch Mountain), her arm erased by CGI, renders a fine, fiercely competitive yet low key Hamilton. Dennis Quaid brings much-needed gruffness to the role of her dad Tom, and Helen Hunt lends sweet strength as her mom Cheri. Lorraine Nicholson (Jack Nicholson’s daughter) plays Hamilton’s spirited best friend Alana Blanchard.
One-dimensional characters and weak dialogue mar the film. Robb, Quaid, Hunt and Nicholson manage to deliver despite the anemic script.
What’s missing is deeper insight into every personality. For example, how did Hamilton meet new social challenges? What was it like to be home schooled?
Return to surfing
Hamilton gives away her surfboards to young autograph seekers after wiping out at her competitive comeback. Later she rejects a prosthetic arm because it can’t be used in the water.
The heroine’s quick recovery and uncomplaining course may seem too simple. “I don’t need easy, I just need possible,” she says.
Belief, love and ecstasy fill Soul Surfer. On her website, Bethany quotes Bible verses. She knows what it is like to rely on God alone.
A lighter hand could have been used with religious references, where a little goes a long way.
Hamilton’s dramatic rescue scene is excellent. Kevin Sorbo and Nicholson play the father and daughter whose quick thinking and action save her life. Later Hamilton joins a humanitarian aid trip to Thailand following a tsunami there. Coaxing a young boy to trust the water, she rediscovers a sense of purpose.
In a weak film debut, Carrie Underwood lends preachy petulance to an important figure in Hamilton’s life, church group leader Sarah Hill. As a result their relationship doesn’t gel onscreen.
Hamilton reconsiders beauty when her mother shows her an image of the Venus de Milo. Long considered a pinnacle of beauty, the statue has no arms. Mother advises daughter to “pray and listen for what comes next.”
A plot device meant to add drama rings false. Competitor Malina Birch (Sonya Balmores Chung) bullies Hamilton even after her accident. When Birch wins a championship trophy, she suddenly announces that she’s sharing the title with Hamilton.
Hamilton turned pro in 2007 and competes worldwide. She stars in a short documentary made by her sister-in-law, Heart of a Soul Surfer (2007).
If you like Soul Surfer, you might enjoy: Win Win.
Soul Surfer 2011 / PG / 1 hour, 46 mins
Cast Overview: AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood, Kevin Sorbo, Lorraine Nicholson, Jeremy Sumpter, Ross Thomas, Sonya Balmores Chung, Chris Brochu
Director: Sean McNamara
Genre: Action, Drama, Sports, Movie Based on the Book, True Stories