This is based on the inspirational true story of Bethany Hamilton who at thirteen years old was involved in a shark attack and consequently lost one of her arms. Bethany grew up in Hawaii with surfer parents and brothers and was born to surf. She was successful in competitions and had a promising future as a professional surfer, then the attack happened and it looked like Bethany’s future would have to take a different path. However, her faith and sheer determination meant that she got back in the water as soon as she possibly could and was on her board in no time. She worked hard and persevered and eventually began competing again. Now at the age of 21 she is still surfing and in 2011 she ranks 53rd in the world according to the ASP Women’s Star Ranking.
This is not really my kind of film but with such an inspirational story and Bethany’s positive attitude to life it is hard not to get sucked into it. There is good acting from all the cast, particularly from Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid as Bethany’s parents, and AnnaSophia Robb does a great job at portraying Bethany both pre and post attack. It was certainly not as cheesy as I was expecting and when judging it one must take into account that firstly this is a Disney family film and secondly the main characters are thirteen years old.
The surfing scenes are truly exhilarating and the competitions are tense and exciting. The build up to the attack takes a few tips from Jaws (1975) with good use of underwater shots aiding the tension. The camerawork is really good and the film is well shot, the use of hand held camera is particularly used to great effect after the attack has taken place. Whilst the actual attack is sudden and over in a split second this seems to reflect how it happened and is therefore much more realistic.
Bethany Hamilton is extremely religious and having known this before watching the film I was expecting long sanctimonious scenes but while there were a few scenes dedicated to her faith these can easily be either overlooked or interpreted in a personal way, i.e. if you don’t believe in God then you can interpret it as whatever you have faith in. I am not a particularly religious person but I could see that Bethany’s faith got her through a difficult time and therefore it seems necessary to include it in the film. These scenes may not be to everyone’s liking but it could have been a lot worse.
The film was a good length and never felt like it was dragging and I felt the characters were likeable. The rivalry with other surfer Malina is a little two-dimensional and some elements are a bit washed over and would have benefited from a little more depth being added. The film is rather sentimental and their home life was depicted as irritatingly perfect, what teenager gets along with their parents that well? But it was a perfectly alright film, not really my cup of tea but entertaining none the less. It is a really good film for younger people and an inspiring story. At the screening of Soul Surfer there were a lot of young surfers who clearly admired Bethany and her story and therefore it is a good fable about overcoming adversity.
Overall Soul Surfer is an entertaining film largely down to its inspiring story. The film serves a purpose and for its target audience of teenagers I think it delivers an important message in an engaging manner. I am not a massive fan of films like this but I actually rather enjoyed it surprisingly and it did a good job of telling an amazing story.
Soul Surfer is out in cinemas now.
Director: Sean McNamara
Stars: AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Lorraine Nicholson
Runtime: 106 mins