Point Break was a decent action/cop film back in its day, but for some reason it has persisted in the cultural and cinematic zeitgeist, rising above others of its genre as one of the best action films of its time.
Point Break (1991) dir. Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Patrick Swayze, Gary Busey, Lori Petty
By Alan Bacchus
Remember, this was the ‘90s, a decade of cop action flicks, buddy movies and male-driven cinema where the male 18-24 demographic dominated. Ironically, Point Break remains one of the timeliest and most muscular of this masculine genre despite being directed by a female when there were almost no female directors in mainstream big budget Hollywood – let alone action cinema.
Well, Kathryn Bigelow is one big exception. Point Break is just one pit stop in a career-long exploration of male camaraderie, an angle on which Bigelow seemed to have found a unique perspective. Early on in her career there was Near Dark, a vampire film mashup, which plays today like a Midwestern biker version of Twilight. Most recently, The Hurt Locker further expanded the notion of male camaraderie in real battle.
Bigelow’s strong visual style, including her golden textured cinematography, strong camera moves and idolatry of the male body in Point Break compares well to any of the Tony Scott oeuvre, including the granddaddy of ‘80s cock-cinema, Top Gun.
Keanu Reeves surprisingly looks exactly the same now as he did back then. His face is a bit fuller now, but he has the same haircut and the same blank expression. He also has the same curious star quality that has continued to shine in the 2000s.
Swayze is perfectly cast as the charismatic criminal, Bodhi, a new wave Hippie who, as an expression of his rebellion, surfs, skydives and robs banks. He has always been the hero in his other films, but Swayze is adequately diabolical and menacing here. And he fits the sun bleached blonde surprisingly well for a country boy. But the genius of this film is the dynamic duo of Reeves and Swayze, who display a mutual respect between adversaries that is so tight, the thin line between good and evil of hero and villain were never more precarious.
This is the stuff of superb formula screenwriting. Formula is not a dirty word in this case. Peter Iliff’s script fits well in the mould of the buddy cop genre. John C. McGinley’s heart attack-in-waiting chief sergeant could also be Axel Foley’s chief in Beverly Hills Cop or Dirty Harry’s chief played by John Larch. There’s also the rival cop duo working parallel to the heroes and the veteran cop (Gary Busey) invigorated by his young partner.
Illiff admirably busts the formula by incorporating the adrenaline junkie theme on top of true and genuine characters, whose motivations we believe wholeheartedly. Bigelow’s panache in making each skydive, car chase, bank robbery and surf break look fantastic on screen is like sweet icing on the cake.
Point Break is available on Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.