There are so many action movie classics that people call the best, but for me, Point Break is a special, unique film that is, without a doubt, my favorite action movie of all time. What compels me about this movie that beyond all others is the intense relationship between the protagonist and antagonist. It creates this amazingly unique dynamic that forges the entire electric, kamikaze adrenalin rush of this film. So, let’s delve into Kathryn Bigelow’s action classic.
Rookie FBI Agent Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) goes undercover to infiltrate a cache of Southern California surfers suspected of robbing banks. Utah, a former football player, is assigned to Los Angeles. There, four bank robbers, who wear rubber masks and call themselves “The Ex-Presidents,” have executed a series of successful robberies which embarrassingly have the FBI stumped. Utah, and his partner Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) suspect that the robbers are surfers and hatch a plan for catching them, but the deeper Utah gets connected to the charismatic adrenalin driven Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and the beautiful Tyler Endicott (Lori Petty) the harder it is for him to jump off this tidal wave of danger and excitement.
Point Break absolutely lives up to its premise as being 100% pure adrenalin. The surfing aspect is just the entryway into this, but it remains at the core of the whole film. That elevated experience shared by Bodhi and Johnny, specifically, is what fuses those two characters together, and is treated with great respect by the filmmakers. The skydiving sequences escalate that to another level with breathtaking cinematography that envelopes you in the experience, and make for a radically insane sequence where Johnny jumps out of the plane, without a parachute, to capture the escaping Bodhi. The earlier chase sequence is visceral and intense that really utilizes a rougher style of camera exceptionally well. And of course, the bank robberies are slam banged into a high gear that shows just how proficient and threatening the Ex-Presidents are. It is no wonder why the FBI has not been able to catch them after twenty-seven banks over three years. Wrap all of this up, and you’ve got a film that goes for the physical thrill of the moment over special effects spectacle. It’s really all about the character dynamics and these scenarios of extreme rushes that provide the high octane exhilaration of Point Break.
Beyond just the action, the core of this film’s compelling energy are the excellent arcs for both Johnny and Bodhi. You see Special Agent Utah at the start being this fresh from the academy FBI rookie all straight laced and green, but you can see the eagerness underneath that later fuels that adrenalin junkie urge. Johnny and Bodhi become genuinely intertwined in a naturally evolving way that inches Utah further towards that kamikaze impulse. Bodhi’s charisma and aura sucks Johnny right in, but it’s never manipulative. Everything Bodhi conveys is honest straight to his core, and every word of it energizes Johnny. Most action films have a clear delineation between the protagonist and the antagonist, but here, things are not so clean cut. Once Johnny is caught up in Bodhi’s tsunami of pure adrenalin, there’s no way out, and he has to ride it out all the way to its heart pounding, violent end. Bodhi will push everything to its absolute breaking point while risking everything and everyone in the process, and there is a price to pay for it.
Quite frankly, this would have to be the movie that made me a serious Keanu Reeves fan. A lot of people give him crap, but I give him a lot of credit. There’s a great deal of subtle development of Johnny Utah between Reeves’ performance and Bigelow’s direction. This all occurs as he further embraces the philosophy of Bodhi and his love for Tyler. Keanu Reeves and Lori Petty have very pure, heartwarming chemistry. Tyler is vibrant and full of brightness that adds glowing life to Johnny. Meanwhile, as the connection between Johnny and Bodhi intensifies, so does the performance of Reeves. Johnny becomes more confident, more determined, and less bound by rules as he is propelled out of control through Bodhi’s deadly thrill ride. I feel Reeves becomes more compelling as the third act shifts into high gear, and Johnny has to has to jump right off the deep end after Bodhi.
Kathryn Bigelow’s direction really envelopes you into Johnny’s mindset whether he’s mesmerized, haunted, elated, or burning with conviction. Through all of this Reeves is genuine and sincere in his emotions. You are kept very closely in tuned with Johnny’s mindset through successes, failures, and conflicts. Point Break is a film that drives everything right to the edge. Every danger, every extreme, every adrenalin rush is pushed to its insane limits at whatever cost imaginable. Bodhi embraces this without hesitation or a moral compass. He’s essentially a barreling freight train unwilling to put on the brakes regardless of what it will cost him.
Patrick Swayze is wickedly good as Bodhi. He envelopes the character entirely in philosophy, conviction, physicality, and spirituality. I love how Bodhi has this ethereal link to the sea, and gains a serenity from surfing while being an extreme adrenalin junkie. Yet, it’s not merely about the thrill with the bank robberies. He has a greater purpose by showing the shackled masses living their mundane, slave to the grind lives that the human spirit is thriving within his crew. Swayze is so electrifying with his natural charisma and intense commitment to the character. When I watch this film, I don’t perceive Patrick Swayze playing a role. I see Bodhi through and through. Swayze is stunningly excellent here, and I’m still a little sad that he is no longer with us. He was an amazingly talented actor, and this should stand as one of his best, most compelling performances.
Rounding out the main cast is Gary Busey in a great, entertaining role as Angelo Pappas. He can be hilariously funny and quirky, but solidly dramatic in the right moments. It’s a really well rounded character portrayed by an actor with the smart talent to balance those elements out perfectly. Plus, there’s John C. McGinley as FBI Director Ben Harp. Surely, he might seem like the stereotypical loud mouthed boss slinging insults around to his subordinates, but McGinley’s such a strongly talented actor that it never comes off as shallow or tired. Add in a touch of smug arrogance, and the character of Harp works dead-on-the-mark in McGinley’s hands.
The musical score by Mark Isham is really fantastic. For one, I love how he captures the enveloping spiritual sense of the sea with smooth, flowing compositions. It’s very beautiful work that reflects the philosophies of Bodhi long before he enters the film officially. There is another gorgeous cue that reflects the mystique of Bodhi that’s only a few chords, but it’s repeated a few times to very magical effect. The action cues are good, yet subtle. Isham never bombards you with pounding percussion.
The soundtrack is energized with songs that capture that Southern California feel from bands such as L.A. Guns, Concrete Blonde, Jimi Hendrix, Public Image Ltd., and capped off with my beloved “Nobody Rides For Free” by Ratt. That song perfectly concludes the film, and reflects the constant energy and excitement that runs through it.
The film really escalates to another level when Johnny realizes who the Ex-Presidents actually are, and that super charges every scene from there on out. The emotions hang on the razor’s edge. For Bodhi, it ups the stakes making the adrenalin rush and peril even more appetizing for him. For Johnny, it creates conflict as he has forged a very close bond and kinship with Bodhi, but is soon forced to do whatever is necessary as Tyler is put into imminent peril. Unlike most action movies such as Die Hard where it’s very straight forward that this is the bad guy and he’s going to die without question, Point Break makes it all far less certain because all of these emotions, some are unexplainable, cloud and complicate the issue. What all of this builds to is possibly my favorite movie ending of all time that entirely departs from all action film expectations.
The relationship between Johnny Utah and Bodhi reaches its apex on a storm soaked beach. Their connection remains electrifying as these two clash, but it’s not the fist fight that makes this as great as it is. Johnny finally has Bodhi in handcuffs ready to put him in a cage for life, but it’s that spiritual kinship between the two that sparks off something unique. All the groundwork for this ending is laid early on in the film in one scene over a bonfire, and the pay-off is amazing to me. Point Break is my favorite action film not because it has the best action sequences, or because of its pleasantly memorable dialogue. It’s because of the culmination of this ending. Everything that these two characters have developed between each other throughout the movie is so smartly interwoven, setup, and punctuated here. It concludes an amazing arc for Johnny Utah who begins as this clean cut rookie FBI Agent who changes into someone driven by impulse, emotion, and that inexplicable sensation he gets out on those waves. He pursues Bodhi down around the world for months on end, but in those final moments with an honest plea from Bodhi that only Johnny can understand fully, you get an ending that breaks a lot of rules in all the right ways. This ending captivates me to no end that I have attempted to homage and replicate in many of my own scripts.
Karthryn Bigelow did not have any real box office success prior to this film, despite turning out some quite good films such as Near Dark and Blue Steel. With Point Break, she really came into fruition with a greatly exciting, fresh, and original summer action picture that really delivered. She shows a great visual style here that pinpoints emotion greatly and really envelopes you into every fiber of this film. Possibly less than half of Bigelow’s movies in her thirty year career have actually been box office successes, and that’s a horrible shame. I think she is an incredible director who showed a great deal of potential here, which she would capitalize upon in with stunning results in Strange Days. Her collaboration on both pictures with now ex-husband James Cameron really shows through in all the best ways. Point Break shares some common ground with Cameron’s work, and even he draws some parallels between the endings of this movie and Terminator 2. Regardless, I will take no credit away from Bigelow who gave us this excellent pure adrenalin rush of a movie which has not been replicated since. I think it goes without saying that I recommend this movie with great passion.
As previously noted, I found the 2003 remake of the Tobe Hooper classic to be a solid horror film on its own merits. It was a successful film, but due to how it left Leatherface, a sequel was less than likely. Instead, the filmmakers chose to exploit an even worse trend in films – a prequel. Generally, it wouldn’t make much difference due to the formulaic slasher style, but intending it to be a sort of origin story for Leatherface was an idea that should’ve been left alone. I must warn you that this review will have some spoilers in it. There are certain issues I will raise that cannot be explored without them. While I will try not to be detailed in my spoilers, they do directly impact the fact of who dies and who survives.
The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning takes place in 1969 – four years before the events of the previous film. Dean (Taylor Handley) has been drafted into the United States Army in the midst of the Viet Nam War. His brother, Eric (Matthew Bomer), has already had a tour in ‘Nam, and is going back to re-enlist. Chrissie (Jordana Brewster) very much loves Eric, and doesn’t want him to go. Unfortunately, he’s too gung-ho for the war and being a patriot to choose love over volunteering for the war. What Eric doesn’t know is that Dean intends to dodge the draft by hopping the Mexico border with his girlfriend Bailey (Diora Baird). The group of four must travel cross-state in Texas for the brothers to join the army. Meanwhile, changes are occurring in the Hewitt household. With the closing of the slaughterhouse, the family is all that’s left of this town. Charles Hewitt (R. Lee Ermy) assumes the role of town sheriff, the family casually embraces cannibalism, and Thomas Hewitt (Andrew Bryniarski) begins his vicious killing streak. Inevitably, these two stories converge, and total carnage and death ensues. I can’t say you’ll “witness the birth of fear,” but you will be a witness to a lot of visceral violence.
My first main gripe with this film is that the focus is on the wrong character, despite the great actor portraying him. Leatherface is the icon of the franchise, and six films have been produced and released with him as that icon. Whether you call him Bubba Sawyer or Thomas Hewitt doesn’t make a huge difference. Either way, he’s still a cannibalistic homicidal maniac who wears human flesh as a mask, and kills people with a chain-saw in Texas. So, my point is, when it comes time to tell of his origins, to explain to us why he is who he is, and why he does what he does, how come the focus of the film is diverted away from him? Why is he treated as the secondary villain throughout the film when he is the icon of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise? He’s on all the posters, all the promotional materials, and has always been treated as the main attraction in the films. In this film, R. Lee Ermey is given the reigns as Charles Hewitt / Sheriff Hoyt. He has the brunt of the spotlight, and has more of his character explored than Leatherface. As the matriarch of the Hewitt family, it is only natural he’s in a leadership role, but Leatherface is barely in this film. Only when someone is to be brutally murdered, is he brought into frame. We really learn next to nothing more about Leatherface than was explained in the 2003 remake. In fact, far more of Leatherface’s origins were stated in that film than this supposed origins story. This alone makes the idea of a prequel a wasted opportunity. If you’re not going to explore the back story and origins of the franchise’s one and only constant star, then why bother doing a prequel? The film sets itself up like it is making Leatherface the focus of the story, but once Ermey comes on screen, he’s given the spotlight. Now, there’s a difference between stealing the spotlight, and being given it. One occurs out of pure happenstance by an actor’s outstanding performance. The other is fully planned by the filmmakers. The filmmakers chose to put focus on Hoyt instead of Leatherface, and that honestly annoys me. What further annoys me is that the brunt of the back story in this film is glossed over in the main title sequence! A montage of Thomas Hewitt at different ages and some newspaper headlines is the meat of the “beginnings.”
My second gripe is that the ending is a victim of the film’s own trappings. This is a prequel, and we’ve already seen the first film which is set four years after this one. So, we already know who is not going to die in this film. When the biker Holden (Lee Tergesen) has Hoyt at gunpoint, you want to get excited that the tables have turned, and this family may now get their deadly due. Of course, that’s short lived since we already know that Hoyt isn’t going to die because he’s alive (and in one piece) four years later, as seen in the 2003 remake. Thus, there’s no tension, hope, or suspense that the scene is obviously intent on provoking from an audience. And the oh-so-clever way out of this is when Holden does pull the trigger, the gun doesn’t fire, and thus, leaving him defenseless to the subsequent attack upon him. This happens despite two facts: one being that he checked the gun chamber earlier on, and more importantly, he just successfully fired the gun at another of the Hewitt clan no more than a minute ago. The gun works one minute, and then, doesn’t the next. This is the first of two displays of stunted logic by the filmmakers. The second comes from the ending – which is worse because you quickly realize that every potential victim will die. Leatherface magically appears in the backseat of this getaway car stolen by our heroine, despite the fact that he was still trailing behind her when she got in the car. Then, he also is able to maneuver that big ass chainsaw around in the back seat. So, Leatherface must’ve contacted the starship Enterprise, had Scotty beam him into the backseat, and used a retractable chainsaw to kill the girl. Of course, he still has to walk back home. The film ends without a resolution, and thus, feels empty. Even the brief narrated statements by John Larroquette are no real help. This is honestly the flattest ending to a horror film I can recall seeing.
While this film is as intense, brutal, and grueling as everyone has been saying, it feels much less developed than the 2003 remake. I found the young protagonist leads to be less endearing and sympathetic than those in Marcus Nispel’s film. This foursome, more or less, felt like your standard slasher film cannon fodder with only some decent level of character development behind them. I didn’t particularly feel for them because they lacked any degree of true emotional depth. The brutality of their deaths, despite the great impact of their ferocity, did not draw any further empathy from me. The less-than-engaging actors aren’t completely to blame for this because the screenplay doesn’t give them any real personalities to make their characters worth much of a damn – especially the girls. They all seem too cliché and hollow. There’s no emotional roller-coaster ride that these characters are subjected to, or even any straight out mindfuck material to screw with their sanity. You don’t see any of them descend into hysterics or some pit of despair. Nobody seems genuinely traumatized by the insanity and carnage they bare witness to. Jordanna Brewster doesn’t come remotely close to what Jessica Biel was so rich with back in 2003. Biel was exceptionally likeable, but also had a tomboy toughness to her, a touch of grittiness, and a real traumatic out-pouring of emotion. I want to see tears and uncontrollable sobbing when a girl sees one of her best friends or boyfriend get savagely murdered right in front of her. Brewster just doesn’t display the acting chops to pull off that level of overly intense emotional distress. Even the tougher heroines of the franchise have shown a wider range of emotions than Brewster shows any hint of here. Only Holden, the rebel biker, did I actually feel for, but that’s only because I have a real big fondness for Lee Tergesen. He’s always done very exceptional acting, and it’s always an extra special treat when I see Tergesen on screen.
The final gripe is the audacity of these filmmakers to try to recreate the infamous “dinner scene” from Tobe Hooper’s original Texas Chain Saw Massacre film. The version of this scene in this film is about as disturbing as your picnic in the park getting rained on. A quickly slashed throat is as far as it goes to disturb you. This family just doesn’t display enough erratic or demented physical behavior to tap into the raw, psychotic mania Hooper originally captured. Director Jonathan Liebesman’s version is totally forgettable and dismissible. Leatherface isn’t even present until the very end. It’s as pussified as can be imagined without becoming totally laughable. This just goes to show that you cannot recreate a classic, especially when you’re barely trying, and at least Marcus Nispel had the foresight not to attempt to recreate this scene in his film.
Now, after this massive tangent of gripes and negativity, you inevitably ask if there’s anything good here. Well, there is some that goes a long way. The acting from the returning cast remains solid as a rock, and the cinematography is quite good except when the end chase sequence turns into The Blair Witch Project with the shaky-cam bullshit. When will filmmakers learn that this style of shooting is nothing but annoying, disorienting, and detracting to the effectiveness of a scene? Beyond that, nothing in the camera work really stood out for me – good or bad, and honestly, didn’t appear noticeably any grittier to me than the 2003 remake. It’s not as glossy in its lighting, but I personally wouldn’t state much more difference than that. The look of the film is nearly identical to Marcus Nispel’s installment down to the faded, dry color scheme. I’m really indifferent towards the musical score. It doesn’t enhance the film much, but certainly doesn’t damage it. It’s just one of those scores that’s just there. On the editing side, the film cuts away, and ultimately holds back, when the most graphic imagery appears. Whether this was an MPAA rating requirement, or the director’s prerogative is uncertain. For whatever reason, I’m tempted to believe the latter especially after seeing what made the R-rated cut of The Hills Have Eyes earlier that same year, but one of the producers said that seventeen scenes had to be cut down to obtain an R rating. An unrated cut was released on DVD, but the single theatrical viewing was enough for me.
The violence here is indeed more unrelenting and brutal than in the 2003 remake. Every act of violence is so smash mouth that it will have you recoiling and cringing. Flesh is slashed and shredded, bones are crushed, skulls battered, and blood is spattered. It’s intense and tough to take. The first kill, which is by sledgehammer, is so visceral and dead-on realistic that you may suffer whiplash from the impacts. The first chainsaw kill is dramatic, and the sound of it is gut-wrenching. Although, the focus is almost completely on the violence instead of the aftermath. Seeing the end result of all this carnage usually goes a long way to building up the fear and emotional distress of our protagonists. This film does indeed lack tension and suspense. It’s just about making the most violent and barbarous film possible. You can get the very same thing in most Quentin Tarantino films. When I watch a horror film, I want tension and suspense racked up as far as possible, or at least have it delve into pure madness. Director Jonathan Liebesman really makes no attempt at this. He just wants violence upon violence. He’s about the shock and impact which are merely momentary whereas the emotional roller-coaster that the build up and aftermath offer are long-lasting. Still, the savagery of the film does make an impact that you won’t soon forget, but doesn’t do anything to keep you on the edge of your seat. This film is purely about sadism, not terror. It’s a blunt object lacking character or subtlety instead of the finely-crafted piece of terror, tension, and suspense that I was hoping for. Furthermore, despite all this barbarism, this film lacks the whirlwind of insanity that has always been the high marks in these films.
Also, what The Beginning lacks that the 2003 remake had is bravado and an animalistic rage for Leatherface. In Marcus Nispel’s film, Leatherface was like a tank barreling down on his prey, and smashing through whatever got in his way. Here, he barely has any screen presence at all since Ermey’s given all the damn screentime. There was no pay-off for all this hiding Leatherface in shadows and such. By the end, he has less screentime here than Jason Voorhees in Jason Goes To Hell, something fans have always been quite vocal over in that film. In 2003’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Leatherface was a dominant physical presence, and that is sorely lacking here. And where’s the bravado? I was actually surprised and impressed by the 2003 remake because it was a real, straight up horror film that was very well-rounded. I won’t say at all that it measures up on the same levels to Hooper’s classic, but I would hardly say it was a disgrace. That film dared to be what exceptionally few horror films were actually trying to do at the time – be a real horror film. It wanted to scare you, to make you feel the horror, and disturb you to some degree. This prequel doesn’t even try to be that much beyond upping the bar for the intensity of the violence, but still doesn’t kick my ass. Nispel’s film also had a certain consistent adrenaline rush to it, but this prequel lacks even that. No momentum is ever built up.
I will indeed give this film high marks for its guts to not hold back on the violence and savagery, but I honestly feel it falls short in every other aspect. There’s so much that seems carbon-copied from the previous film that it becomes difficult to focus on anything remotely original here. Even the end chase sequence swings through the slaughterhouse, albeit only briefly. In fact, the entire end chase is very brief, sacrificing (again) any attempt at building tension or a sense of imminent peril. The screenplay wastes every opportunity to make Leatherface the focus of the movie, and to mainly explore his evolution from a deformed outcast child to a cannibalistic, psychotic, and vicious butcher, which I thought was the entire point of this prequel. The director foregoes any attempt at creating tension, suspense, or even a passing sense of insanity in exchange for pure blunt brutality. It’s just kill, kill, kill to no end. Just an excuse for a body count. The characters that we should have immense sympathy for really just fell flat for me. I didn’t care if they lived or died. There wasn’t nearly enough emotional depth or personality to them to forge any connection for me. The girls are just there to scream and offer some eye candy. I will also take issue with anyone who freely throws around the statement that this film is terrifying. Unless a movie makes you scream out in terror, has you pissing your pants, or leaves you completely paralyzed with fear in your theatre seat, don’t dare say that this or any other film is terrifying.
Anyway, I have to ultimately say that this film is much less developed than the 2003 remake, but is indeed more intense where the violence is concerned. I don’t see it as a good enough trade-off. Reference Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes remake to see how a film of this kind is done right. That, my fellow horror fans, was the true best horror film of 2006. It had all the fear, madness, empathy for characters, suspense, gore, and brutality that one looks for in a Texas Chainsaw Massacre film. No sequel, prequel, rip-off, or remake has yet to do justice to Tobe Hooper’s original, unrelenting, and raw film from 1974. This film is rather lifeless and lacks any genuine human element to connect with – something essential to any great horror film. Ultimately, I cannot recommend The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning all that much. If you just want pure brutality with little else to scare or entertain, this is likely for you, but it’s surely not one for me.