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Soul Surfer - Review

Soul Surfer

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

THE true story behind Soul Surfer is a genuinely inspiring triumph against the odds tale. It’s a shame, then, that the film version sometimes lacks inspiration of its own.

A generic triumph of the human spirit tale that fictionalises certain elements for dramatic effect, while placing too much of an emphasis on the spirituality, or faith, under-pinning it, the film sometimes feels a little too ‘Hollywood’ for its own good.

Indeed, this is a film so full of hope that it sometimes becomes stifling… and which could have benefited from a little more grit and insight.

Soul Surfer is the story of Hawaiian-based surfer Bethany Hamilton who, at the age of 13, lost her arm in a shark attack and was lucky to stay alive.

Through guts and determination, Hamilton returned to surfing a mere month after her ordeal and continues to compete in surfing competitions today. She remains an inspiration.

In film form, Hamilton is well played by AnnaSophia Robb, with solid support from Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her parents.

But while director Sean McNamara’s film does well in capturing the horrific nature of the actual shark attack, as well as the brave, quick-thinking actions of the colleagues who helped to save her during a bravura 10-minute sequence, and further includes some top surf sequences, a little more bravery was needed at other times.

Instead, the film resorts to easy sentiment and unnecessary dramatic devices. A fictional surf rival who continues to berate Hamilton even when she’s left with one arm feels like a caricatured movie villain and is clearly there for the sake of it. But she feels false.

Likewise, Hamilton’s path to recovery and competitor status is glossed over with countless montage sequences and misses the chance to really explore the psychology of what must have been involved, especially the darker moments of self-doubt and fatigue.

Indeed, McNamara’s film – working from a screenplay that was put together by at least seven writers – prefers to toss in a little mental crisis and then show how it was overcome by using Hamilton’s real-life trip to Thailand, post-tsunami, to show how she got over it.

Hence, Soul Surfer feels very much like the touchy-feely Hollywood version of events that operates using disposable sentiment rather than real-life emotions.

That said, many of the surfing sequences are good and filmed using a variety of techniques, from board cams to underwater shots that capture the excitement of riding the waves.

Coupled with the performances, it means the film isn’t a complete disappointment, merely one that feels like a missed opportunity for some proper soul searching of its own along the way.

Watch the trailer:

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 106mins
UK Release Date: September 23, 2011