Point Break and its Status as a ’90s Action Movie Classic

With a remake due this summer, we take a look back at the Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze original...

“If you want the ultimate, you’ve gotta be willing to pay the ultimate price. It’s not tragic to die doing what you love.”

Whenever there’s talk about our most iconic stars of action cinema, it’s almost impossible not to think of the eternally muscle clad duo of Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, or a vest clad Bruce Willis smoking and swearing out of the corner of his mouth. Yet ever since Point Break in 1991, Keanu Reeves has been a constant presence in the genre for over two decades.

What’s impressive about Keanu Reeves is that during his diverse career he’s managed to appear in several of the greatest action movies made to date along the way, including the always joyous Speed (look out Jeff Daniels!), three Matrixmovies (regardless of how you might rate the quality of the sequels, the action is still superb) and now the mighty John Wick – a film whose brutal simplicity pitches the eponymous anti-hero up against a slew of bad guys and reminds us quite how compelling Reeves’ brand of easy going charm and kung fu can be.

During the year that John Wick provides a fresh spin on hand to hand combat, thanks to its stuntmen turned directors Chad Stahelski and David Leitch (the former working as Reeves’ stunt double in The Matrix), it’s slightly ironic that we’ll also see the remake of Point Break released, which will really have to be something special to even approach the iconic status the original still has. I’m someone who tends to be fairly open minded when it comes to remakes, though I do find it strange that Hollywood’s desperate need to seek security in an existing brand name means pillaging 90s properties that haven’t really aged.

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Regardless, we’ll have a new Point Break by year’s end, though since Gerard Butler dropped out there’s no real star power to raise its profile, which I think could be a risky move – at the time of the original Reeves’ star was well and truly on the rise and those of us hitting the target teenage age demographic Point Breakwas aimed at already loved him from Bill And Ted’s Excellent Adventure at the very least.

Swayze on the other hand was already an established star, and one whose charisma and reputation made him the perfect fit to play Bodhi – a large part of his power was in his mutual appeal to all genders, having Ghost and Dirty Dancing under his belt as well as several of my personal favourite action movies to balance out those romantic dramas, in Next Of Kin (which also stars Liam Neeson and Bill Paxton as his brothers and if that isn’t enough to sell you, then you probably shouldn’t be reading this) and the mullet fuelled, throat ripping stuff of legend that is Roadhouse. Heck, even Uncommon Valor deserves a mention.

With no disrespect to Luke Bracey (who proved a strong action co-lead in the much under-appreciated The November Man last year) and Edgar Ramirez (the man on the receiving end of a book to the face from our man Jason in The Bourne Ultimatum) but they’ve really got their work cut out to recapture that sense of perfect casting alignment that made the original so captivating.

In the original Point Break Bohdi is Swayze and Swayze is Bodhi – both actor and character caught in a quest for the spiritual in what they do. Swayze even disassociated himself from his iconic branding as a sex symbol and became an accomplished martial artist after studying from a young age, hence the inclusion of his rather fine fighting style in the film that deftly shows his adeptness for breaking heads, as well as hearts. He was known for his intensity and commitment to any role, possessing the enigmatic charm and intense acting ability that set him apart from many of his peers at the time. During the filming of Ghost, director Jerry Zucker had to persuade Swayze that genuinely having a tear-filled breakdown over the memory of his father was actually too intense and too real for the film.

In Point Break, Swayze is the epitome of unattainable cool. As Bodhi, the enigmatic leader of a surf gang, he commands the lives of those around him and is utterly convincing as a man capable of derailing even the sternest and straightest of human beings, adding credibility to every aspect of the film’s conflicts. It’s difficult to shake the sadness about his tragic death in 2009. I’m just glad that his memory will always be kept very much alive in the many great films he appeared in.

Alongside the great Swayze is, of course, an incredibly fresh faced Keanu Reeves, perfectly chosen as F.B.I agent, Johnny Utah, a fine cinematic name if ever there was one. At the time Reeves was mostly known for playing lovable dudes in both Parenthood and, of course, Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure, but Point Breakreally launched his career and cut him into an action hero who was part straight edge arrogance and part slick charm.

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As I remember, it was also the role that made him an instant sex symbol, with the still image of him in the rain adorning every magazine and review at the time, as well as the film’s poster.

Reeves fits the action well (and, no doubt, set him on the course that would eventually result in The Matrix many years later), despite the constant knocks his acting has received over the years, as he relishes the more dramatic moments, while being equally convincing as both ‘young, dumb, full of cum’ FBI agent and surfer dude, any stiffness merely adding to his on screen persona.

The real joy in his performance as Utah, though, comes in his character’s more enthusiastic moments, when the bubbly traits of Ted Theodore Logan start to shine through slightly. I, for one, would welcome Reeves’ return to the world of Bill & Ted, as the cinematic world could really do with some more naïve optimism and good, old fashioned fun.

Point Break also gave Lori Petty her career break as Tyler, a much stronger, more fleshed out, female supporting role than is normally allowed in such a male-dominated action film. Certainly Tyler is still the film’s perfunctory love interest, but her more masculine qualities and dominance over Utah’s almost androgynous charms balance the film in an unusual way, particularly from an aesthetic point of view. It’s a shame that Petty’s following strong performances in A League Of Their Ownand geek oddity Tank Girl (a film I haven’t seen since the cinema and must really rewatch) didn’t secure a continued Hollywood climb for her career.

Speaking of unconventional, the ever prolific legend that is Gary Busey turns in another great performance as Reeves’ jaded partner, Pappas, adding some much needed humour to the film, while sparking nicely off John C McGinley, who’s in full shouty bastard mode, as their boss.

It’s strange how much retro-sympathy McGinley’s Dr Cox has bought him. In Point Break, he’s just playing the uptight suit, whom the audience is meant to hate from the outset. Yet watching him scream at Reeves and Busey is a lot more comical and enjoyable since Scrubs came along.

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Even The Red Hot Chili Peppers frontman, Anthony Kiedis, pops up for a great one line role, as does Bigelow regular, Tom Sizemore, in an uncredited cameo.

By far, though, the film’s greatest asset is director, Kathryn Bigelow. She combines the stellar cast with beautiful cinematography by Donald Peterman, a haunting score by Mark Isham, and eminently quotable dialogue, with some of the most superbly shot and influential action scenes of all time – most notably the on foot chase through back gardens and alleys, breathlessly captured by throwing the camera right in the middle of the pursuit. When Bigelow was awarded her Oscar in 2010 for The Hurt Locker, I couldn’t help but feel it was about time that Hollywood gave her some much deserved recognition.

Having grown up with her films, it still amazes me that, even though she dispelled any myth that women weren’t just as capable as men of directing films, in any genre, decades ago, that she still stands in an utter minority. The fact that Kathryn Bigelow became the first woman to win both an Oscar and BAFTA for Best Director in the same year seems astounding to me. Either way, I can thoroughly recommend Near DarkBlue Steel, and K-19: The Widowmaker (which stars Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson together – casting doesn’t get much better), while Strange Daysis a film that still holds up well as both a thriller and a work of science fiction.

Incidentally, in our rather epic interview with Michael Biehn from a few years back, he informed us that Bigelow, who had purloined most of James Cameron’s Aliens cast for Near Dark, approached Biehn for roles multiple times in her films, including that of Bodhi in Point Break.

When watching Point Break now, it’s difficult to divorce it from the influence it’s had on numerous films since, from The Fast And The Furious lifting the entire concept (while dropping it in the process), Hot Fuzz‘s affectionate referencing, or the on-foot pursuit mentioned above that has been stolen multiple times, though rarely with the use of a flying dog.

Yet, Point Break packs more of a punch than most action films, proving to be far more bloody, brutal and ballsy than most, while being interspersed with the sublime and tranquil beauty of surfing. It’s probably best surmised by one quote from the film, “Peace though superior firepower.”

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