Chasing Mavericks is a feel-good film that's actually good.
Under the category of 'feel-good sports flick that don't suck,' we have the giants: Hoosiers (basketball), The Natural (baseball), The Sweater (hockey), and Rudy (football). But for every Rudy, we got The Replacements; for every Natural, we've endured Summer Catch. Does the biopic Chasing Mavericks finally add a surfing film into this hall of fame? The answer is...perhaps. Chasing Mavericks is a surprising addition to the fall lineup, sporting some amazing maverick waves and introducing us to the life of Jay Moriarity, whose tragic death in 2001 ended a brief but spectacular surfing career. And while Mavericks isn't perfect by any means, it's good enough to present one-part instruction in the sport/one-part biopic without losing itself in the details. Newcomer Jonny Weston plays the 16-year-old Jay, who one day sneaks onto a closed beach where some of the largest waves in the world - called mavericks - come to play during the El Nino weather season. Upon watching local legend Rick “Frosty” Hesson (Gerard Butler, 300) skim through them, Jay decides that he too wants a piece of the experience and enlists Frosty as his instructor. But the crafty veteran wants more from the boy, who as his neighbor has watched Jay grow up fatherless and surrounded by the loser mother Kristy (Elizabeth Shue, Back to the Future II). Frosty sees potential in the boy (who was counting swells as a kid) and becomes his mentor as well, instructing Jay in the Four Pillars of Strength, which Jay will need if he is to survive the massive force of these tides. As personal difficulty and even tragedy befall our duo, each will need the other to survive the greatest challenge ahead: surfing the mavericks while the entire world witnesses their death-defying plan.
Beautifully shot by directors Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) and Michael Apted (Enigma), Mavericks shines as a film about surfing and does a fair job at telling the human story. In the previous case, it's been a long time since such epic scenes of surf boarders and their interaction with the ocean have been captured with such striking results. Apted, who replaced the ailing Hanson near the end of filming, does a more than capable job at closing the sale, capturing amazing close-ups of our actors as they brave the damaging maverick tides. This 'real-wave' footage gives the film a great dose of reality, accurately depicting both the thrill and danger of waves that can top five stories. From a visual perspective, it exceeds Endless Summer or really anything else. The script by Kario Salem (The Rat Pack) is modest in its approach, but contains worthwhile educational lessons for young people about the practicalities of surfing - wind, tides, the strength needed to hold a board along punishing waves - as well as the self-help element (via Frosty's Four Pillars of Strength). It may weep of Mr. Myiagi, but it feels right here, providing needed continuity between the surfing scenes and the training Jay undergoes.
Butler (who must be the least utilized talent in Hollywood) and Weston have good chemistry, as their relationship morphs beyond the standard father/son escapade. You can almost imagine him in his 300 garb again, instructing his son on fighting techniques; but this time, his grounded and complicated life is on display, providing a strong message for the impressionable Jay. Beyond that, the efforts of supporting actors Shue, Abigail Spencer (Cowboys and Aliens), and Leven Rambin (The Hunger Games) are unremarkable but good enough to keep the story moving. We're really here to see waves and men who ride them, and Mavericks gives us all we can handle. It's also nice to see the appearances of surfing great Robert August, who fashions Jay a new board to take on the mavericks, as well as fellow stars Peter Mel, Greg Long, and Zah Wormhoudt as Frosty's buddies.
As the menacing waves in Chasing Mavericks crash upon the screen, we're reminded about the simple pleasure which films can provide. Sure, the ending is tragic; but as with all things, it seems the brightest candles burn twice as fast. Chasing Mavericks is a solid feel-good film that will inspire with its message of tenacity, provided you're into such self-help schemes; at the very least, its imagery is breathtaking, providing a great thrill-ride for the senses. Watch out, or you might actually get something else out of it than just men on boards. Chasing Mavericks is rated PG.
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