SOUL SURFER Movie Review
My first piece of advice for anyone planning to go see SOUL SURFER: if you have any type of emotional heart, bring a tissue (I didn’t, but don’t worry, I did manage to hold it together…barely.)
To be honest, I was pleasantly surprised by this film, and in a good way. As with any emotionally charged movie based on real life events, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Soul Surfer proved itself to be a feature that was not only well-done, but also one that harbored great acting and inspiring moments.
The family and faith-based film tells the true life story of surfer Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) who loses her arm in a shark attack. Despite losing a limb, she doesn’t lose her dreams, getting back on the board almost immediately despite her accident and overcoming her fears to become the professional athlete she always dreamed of being. Robb truly shines in this film, giving us a wonderful interpretation of Hamilton by showing both sides of her character – her strong nature as she struggles to reclaim her talent in the wake of the disaster, as well as the emotional pain that she exhibits during her setbacks.
Soul Surfer boasts a strong supporting cast that includes Carrie Underwood, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid and Kevin Sorbo. Underwood, in her film debut, delivers a surprisingly solid performance as Bethany’s church youth group leader, while Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid are both glowing and uplifting as Bethany’s supportive parents. It’s entirely believable that the Hamilton’s are a family who care about each other, which helps sell the film on many levels as most of Bethany’s journey is based on her family’s unwavering support. Sorbo is both intense and believable as Bethany’s long-time family friend whose quick thinking saves her life during her accident.
Sports movies are often tricky considering the amount of stunts involved, and Soul Surfer is no exception. Since at least 80% of the movie needs takes place on the water (requiring lots of close-ups and tight shots) it would have been easy to make the movie look unrealistic and cheaply shot. While the real Bethany Hamilton did most of the surfing for the film, she also taught Robb (a beginner surfer) some moves as well. As an avid moviegoer, I am always more impressed when an actress attempts at least some of their own stunts, as I feel it adds greatly to the authenticity of the film.
There are many moments throughout the film where you feel yourself start to waver emotionally. But the real heart (and the real reason to dig out your tissues) of Soul Surfer comes at the end, where a nice clip is shown of the real Bethany Hamilton in one of her recent competitions. As the movie roles through the rest of the credits, side images show all of Bethany’s real life moments as they were depicted in the film – from the first time she surfed as a child, to her first time back on the surfboard after her accident, to winning her first competition. Kudos to director Sean McNamara for instilling the film with elements of realness and reminding us that Soul Surfer wasn’t just about making a movie for monetary purposes – it was about honoring an incredibly strong girl who overcame odds and inspired countless others to do the same.
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