Saturday, January 8, 2011
Point Break (1991)
Feminists would probably frown on me if I described Kathryn Bigelow's filmmaking as masculine. She's a woman who directs action movies. Isn't the only reason we find this unusual because society creates certain roles for women and expect them to fill them? Who's to say that shootings, bank robberies and intense car chases are reserved exclusively for dudes?
Well, Katheryn Bigelow says it. There is one important female character in Point Break--the feisty Tyler (Lorry Petty), who takes shit from no one and can surf with the best of them--but she just gets relegated to a role as Keanu Reeves's romantic interest, and eventually even becomes the damsel in distress. No, Bigelow is definitely interested in men. In their aggression, the way they bond and connect, and most notably, in their constant search for the ultimate rush. And she directs her tale of driven men with admirable force; Point Break is a movie about adrenaline that is full of the stuff.
The men in Point Break do a lot of things to get that adrenaline pumping. Reeve's plays Johnny Utah, formerly a college football star in Ohio and now starting his career as an FBI agent in L.A. There, he works with partner Pappas (Gary Busey) to try to find the identity of the Ex-Presidents, a gang of four bank robbers, who have robbed more than 30 banks in the past few years, and who leave no clues behind. Pappas has a hunch that they're surfers, so Keanu goes undercover and learns to ride the waves. There he meets Bodhi the Bhodisattva (Patrick Swayze) and his followers and learns about the spiritual dimension of catching 20 ft breaks. Then come some of the most exhilarating scenes I've seen on film; a shootout, a car chase, and a foot chase are brutal and intense. And then there's an extended skydiving sequence that is truly breathtaking.
That seems to cover the gamut of risky male behavior. I would go so far as to say that Bigelow is as fetishistic about violence and thrills as any of her subjects, given how thoroughly and lovingly she details the experience. But if Bigelow enjoys all the action as much as, say, her ex hubby James Cameron, there's still something that sets her apart, and that something has to do with gender (sorry if I keep having to bring this up). No matter how fascinated she is with this world, she knows she's not a part of it. In Both Point Break and The Hurt Locker, Bigelow maintains a critical distance, an ability to truly observe the motivations of these men who, as one FBI officer puts it, are "young, dumb, and full of cum." In the best scenes of the two movies violence is shown as a game and a connecting force for these men; the joviality of the bank robberies in Point Break, the quasi homoerotic rough housing in the Hurt Locker, and even all that surfing, which one surfer claims is "better than sex". And this violence is above all destructive. As Bodi says, "If you're looking for the ultimate, you have to be willing to pay the ultimate price."
The message may seem contradictory, even hypocritical. Why would Bigelow devote herself so enthusiastically to the pursuit of the ultimate rush, while at the same time showing where it leads to? Actually, it makes perfect sense. When James Cameron gives Sigourney Weaver a platform to kick ass, he's preaching female empowerment and the joys of escapist, cathartic violence. When Bigelow uses violence, it's not feminine, it's not about empowerment, and it's not a force for good. But it is something that makes you feel good, and it is something that you can't get enough of.
Well, that's it for my analysis. As far as the actual quality of Point Break--there's a reason that it's not the Bigelow movie known for taking home the Best Picture award. Keanu's acting in certain scenes is downright bad, there's occasional cheesiness, and the ending is terrible. The Hurt Locker (2009) tackles the same themes as Point Break, but it pares down much of the excess, and is more focused and formally impressive. Still, The Hurt Locker lacks the charm of this modern cult classic. I doubt anyone's going to learn all of Jeremy Renner's lines by heart, the way PB fanatics do for Swayze or Busey.