Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Sean McNamara

Stars: Annasophia Robb, Carrie Underwood, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid.

From a young age, Bethany Hamilton (Annasophia Robb) had “salt water in her blood.” Born into a family of surfers, the teenager was a surfing prodigy destined for greatness until a shark attack left her with only one arm.

Based on Hamilton’s own memoir, Soul Surfer deals mainly with her determination to return to the water and compete in surfing trials. When she begins to have doubts, a journey to Thailand in the wake of the devastating tsunami gives her a new perspective on what is really important in life. With the encouragement and support of her family and her religious faith she fought back to eventually achieve her dream of becoming a professional surfer.

Soul Surfer is an inspiring and moving story of courage, faith, determination, of triumph over adversity, and of living your dream. No less than seven writers (many of whom have written extensively for television) have fashioned the screen story, but it seems surprisingly lucid and straightforward. Soul Surfer is a well-meaning film has all the ingredients of a television movie of the week, but it is nowhere near as cheesy or as saccharine as it could have been. The film has a strong Christian message that is thankfully toned down, although it will strike a chord with its target audience. It is also quite entertaining, and boasts some solid production values and a classy cast.

Director Sean McNamara is a veteran of television shows like That’s So Raven, which is aimed at tween girls, but his direction here is stylised and solid. There is some nice lush cinematography of Hawaii’s sun-drenched beaches and beautiful blue water from John R Leonetti that adds to the film. However during the first half-hour or so the overuse of handheld cameras and the rapid fire editing creates a giddy effect that is a little disorienting. During the climactic surfing contest, Leonetti’s camera glides in and out of the waves, and at times we feel as though we are there with the competitors.

Performances across the board are solid. In particular Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid bring compassion to their performances as Bethany’s supportive and caring parents. American Idol’s Carrie Underwood brings a spark to her role as a Christian youth leader who is also Bethany’s spiritual mentor. In her most mature role to date Robb (from Race To Witch Mountain, etc) has a natural screen presence, and is excellent here as the tomboyish Hamilton. She captures her courage, determination, and strength, but she also brings a sense of self-doubt, vulnerability and uncertainty to her performance.

Special effects have come along way since producers digitally removed Gary Sinise’s legs in post-production for Forrest Gump; here Hamilton’s digitally amputated arm looks horribly realistic. There’s plenty of surfing action here, although much of the girls’ surfing prowess has been digitally enhanced. And Hamilton herself also doubled for Robb in some sequences. Soul Surfer is not so much about the sport as it is about Bethany’s struggle to regain her confidence and ability.

During the end credits we see archival footage of the real Hamilton, which encapsulates her fighting spirit and positive attitude. For Bethany it is a spiritual journey; for the audience it is an emotional roller coaster ride!



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