Emotionally Honesty Mavericks Dramatically Chases Waves
Chasing Mavericks comes amazingly close to being a very good film. The story of Santa Cruz surfing phenom Jay Moriarty (newcomer Jonny Weston) and his epic battle with gigantic 35-plus foot waves crashing off of the coastline (an area known as Mavericks, thus the title) at only 15 years of age, the movie can be rather hypnotic. Directors Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and Michael Apted (Gorillas in the Mist) revel in the visual majesty of these competitions, stepping out of the way every time their hero and his grizzled, tough-as-nails mentor Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) jump into the water.
But the story? Even though it’s based on fact, even though it doesn’t stray from the climactic tragedies affecting the main characters, there is a soggy been there-done that angle to Kario Salem’s (The Score) script that’s undeniably noticeable. The surrogate father-son relationship between Jay and Frosty is strictly by-the-numbers, while subplots involving the teen’s self-destructive single mother (a wasted Elisabeth Shue), love interest Kim (Leven Rambin) and best friend Blond (Devin Crittenden) barely register.
Yet my interest in seeing where things were going to go next rarely wavered. What transpires between Jay and Frosty may be overly familiar but it still has plenty of heart, and watching the latter train the former to survive Mavericks isn’t without its charms. It helps that Frosty’s wife Brenda (a terrific Abigail Spencer) add just the right amount of spark and spunk, bringing a layer of authenticity to the drama that probably wouldn’t exist without her.
It’s hard to know how to deal with some of the subplots involving Brenda and a few other characters. While they are fact-based and supposedly happened, some of these moments can’t help but feel deeply contrived, more suited to a Nicholas Sparks adaptation than they are this particular story. These sudden twists frequently annoyed me, and while Hanson and Apted do their best to mitigate the melodramatic pabulum that occurs during these moments, the emotional manipulation is unquestionably still annoying.
But the climax is a knockout, plain and simple, Jay’s journey to Mavericks coming to a spectacular conclusion. His battling of the waves, the way his first failure leads to his greatest, and as far as the sport of big wave surfing is concerned, downright legendary, triumph is magnificently realized. The cinematography of newcomer Oliver Euclid and the legendary Bill Pope (The Matrix) is extraordinary. I was blown away by all that was happening, and there was never a second where I wanted to turn my eyes away from the screen.
I don’t know how closely the screenplay sticks to Jay’s life story (although statements by the filmmakers lead me to believe they tried their best as far as that’s concerned). I know even less about the sport of big wave surfing. But as far as the movie itself was concerned, even with its flaws, I do feel Hanson and Apted have done a fairly decent job bringing this tale to life. I also have a feeling once it hits Blu-ray Chasing Mavericks will develop a fervent following who will be eager to ride the waves and hang ten right alongside Jay and Frosty.
Film Rating: 2½ (out of 4)