Point Break is Kathryn Bigelow’s second directorial effort. It follows the story of FBI agent Utah (Keanu Reeves) and his undercover stint with the Ex-Presidents; long-haired, freeloading surfers by weekday, bank robbers by weekend. As Utah leverages his former-quarterback athleticism, young looks, and street knowledge to infiltrate the Ex-Presidents, he befriends their leader, Bodhi (Patrick Swayze).
Bodhi looks and speaks like a messiah. To him, surfing and robbing are spiritual pursuits and a means to connect with the adrenaline innate to human nature. He’s not looking to get radical or rich—he just wants to find himself.
Like most undercover cop stories, the narrative of Point Break is the conflict between Utah’s loyalties to the FBI and his developing bond with Bodhi. There are predictable, well-tread story arcs. For example, when Utah finally corners Bodhi at gunpoint after an iconic chase scene, he shoots the air in frustration, unable to choose between apprehending his subject and killing his friend.
The central conflict is a little stale, but what separates Point Break from the herd of action movies is its depiction of surfer culture. Narratively, Point Break combines early nineties surfer culture with high-octane action and spiritual musings. As a work of filmmaking, Bigelow manages to weave those disparate elements into a viewing experience that is “totally rad,” edge-of-your seat exciting, and surprisingly thoughtful.
For instance, one scene involves Utah ambushed by a group of gnarly dudes who don’t like the “jive” of his messy surfing. A fist fight breaks out. Directed with Bigelow’s trademark penchant for action scenes, the fight is riveting. Utah, outnumbered, is then saved by Bodhi. Surfing, fighting, and musing sums up Point Break.
Looking back, well-executed action is about the only thing Point Break has in common with Bigelow’s modern filmography. This is a masculine and fantastical story—a far cry from the caliber, scope, and political reach of Bigelow’s recent filmography. With a unique blend of tones and styles, it’s no wonder Point Break became a cult classic. It’s a tough movie to describe, but it also isn’t—it’s just a real good time.