Point Break (1991): Revisiting Kathryn Bigelow’s Thrilling Actioner Starring Patrick Swayze and Keanu Reeves

point_break_1991_poster“Point Break” is a visually delirious but intellectually frustrating thriller-actioner about a band of Zen-spouting surfers.

Similarly to her strategy in the policier thriller “Blue Steel,” director Kathryn Bigelow imposes technical virtuosity on a thematically conventional material.

“Point Break” reaffirms Bigelow’s talent as a director of fast-paced, high-adrenaline actioners, burdened with weaker narratives and less than credible dialogue.

The title of this actioner refers to surfing, when a wave breaks as it hits a point of land jutting out from the coastline.

The film benefits immensely from it two male leads, Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, both of whom were hot at the time after breakthrough roles, Reeves in “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” and Swayze in “Dirty Dancing.”

point_break_1991_7_reevesReeves plays the straight arrow, rookie FBI agent Johnny Utah, who is investigating some bank robberies committed by surfers.  To gain access, he infiltrate the surfing community by going undercover.  Most of the tale centers on the peculiar, complex bond that evolves between Reeves and Bodhi, the gang’s charismatic leader, played by Patrick Swayze.

A better picture than Blue Steel, Point Break is consistently suspenseful and almost relentlessly stylish, but occasionally dragged down by its “more serious” aspirations.

A box office hit, the film grossed $83.5 million at the box-office against a modest budget of $24 million. Though initially greeted by mixed critical response, over the years, the movie has developed a cult status due to exposure via VHS and DVD releases.

point_break_1991_8_reeves_swayzeDetailed Plot

Johnny Utah, a former Ohio State University Buckeyes quarterback and now rookie FBI Agent, is assigned to assist vet agent, Angelo Pappas, in investigating bank robberies by the “Ex-Presidents,” a gang of robbers wearing face-masks of former US presidents, Reagan, Nixon, Johnson, to disguise their identities.

They raid the banks’ cash drawers–but not their vaults, and boast of doing the job quickly, in 90 seconds. Utah goes undercover, after persuading surfer Tyler Endicott to instruct him. Through her Utah meets Bodhi, the charismatic leader of the gang, which includes Roach, Grommet, and Nathaniel.

point_break_1991_9_reeves_swayzeAfter some doubt ad hesitation, the group accept him when Bodhi singles out his status as a former football star. While mastering surfing, Utah gets drawn to the surfers’ adrenaline-charged “existential” lifestyle.

Utah and Pappas lead an FBI raid on another gang of surfers. Despite their criminal records, these surfers are not be the Ex-Presidents and the raid inadvertently ruins a DEA undercover operation.

Watching Bodhi’s group surfing, Utah begins to suspect they are the “Ex-Presidents.” His suspicions are confirmed when he sees Bodhi and Roach in action.  Wearing a Reagan mask, Bodhi leads Utah on a foot chase, which is the most thrilling set-piece in the film.  It ends when Utah, jumping reignites the knee injury that had ended his career. Despite a clear look at Bodhi, Utah cannot shoot, letting his adversary escape.

point_break_1991_10_reeves_swayzeThe movie gets pretentious in a scene that reveals that the gang’s primary motivation is not profit, but rebellion against mainstream society, a system that “kills the human spirit.”

Knowing Utah’s true identity, the gang wants out, but Bodhi stands firm. Tyler, too, upon discovering Utah’s true identity, breaks-up with him. Bodhi then reveals that he knows Utah is an FBI agent and has arranged for Tyler to be held hostage. Blackmailed into participating in the Ex-Presidents last bank robbery of the summer. During the robbery, Bodhi breaks his rule and robs the vault, which takes longer than the usual. As a result, Grommet, an off-duty police officer, and a security guard are killed while trying to stop the robbery. In anger, Bodhi knocks Utah out and walks out.

point_break_1991_2_reeves_swayzeDefying their officers, Pappas and Utah go to the airport where Bodhi, Roach, and Nathaniel are about to leave for Mexico. During a shoot-out, Pappas and Nathaniel are killed, and Roach is wounded. The pilot reveals the group’s destination, thus risking their escape plans. Bodhi forces Utah onto the plane at gunpoint, and later he and Roach parachute from the plane.

With no other parachute, Utah jumps from the plane with Bodhi’s gun and intercepts him before he lands; Utah’s knee gives out again, allowing Bodhi to escape. Roach dies of his wounds and Bodhi and Rosie leave with the money.

point_break_1991_3_swayzeNine months later, Utah, now a long-haired surfer, tracks down Bodhi in a gorgeous beach in Australia, where a storm produces the kind of excitingly lethal waves Bodhi had been talking about–“50-Year Storm”. Utah attempts to bring Bodhi into custody, but Bodhi refuses. During a brawl, Utah handcuffs himself to Bodhi. Bodhi begs Utah to release him so he can ride the once-in-a-lifetime wave.

In the end, realizing that Bodhi will not survive, Utah releases him. The authorities watch Bodhi surf to his death, Utah walks away, throwing his FBI badge into the ocean, in a gesture that recalls the very last shots of Gary Cooper in High Noon, burying his sheriff insignia under his feet.


Patrick Swayze as Bodhi

Keanu Reeves as FBI Agent Johnny Utah

Gary Busey as FBI Agent Angelo Pappas

Lori Petty as Tyler Endicott

John McGinley as FBI Agent Ben Harp

James LeGros as Roach

John Philbin as Nathaniel

Bojesse Christopher as Grommet

Lee Tergesen as Rosie

Julian Reyes as FBI Agent Alvarez

Daniel Beer as FBI Agent Babbit

Vincent Klyn as Lupton “Warchild” Pittman

Chris Pedersen as Bunker Weiss

Dave Olson as Archbold

Anthony Kiedis as Tone

Sydney Walsh as Miss Deer

Peter Phelps as Australian surfer

Tom Sizemore as DEA Agent Dietz

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