Monday, April 29, 2013

Penny Thoughts ‘13—Chasing Mavericks (2012) ***

PG, 116 min.
Directors: Curtis Hanson, Michael Apted
Writers: Kario Salem, Jim Meenaghan, Brandon Hooper
Starring: Johnny Weston, Gerard Butler, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer, Leven Rambin, Devin Crittenden, Taylor Handley

Gerard Butler is in a lot of movies. He produces most of the ones he’s in too, which means not only are these acting projects he’s choosing to do, these are productions he feels should be made. Most of the movies he makes are bad. Some are just plain bad. Some are good ideas that are poorly executed. “Chasing Mavericks” is the rare worthwhile picture that Butler gets behind.

It tells the story of the first surfer to be photographed on the famous giant waves on the Northern Coast of California known as The Mavericks. For quite some time these huge waves were thought to be a phenomenon restricted to the middle of the Pacific, far from any shores. In the 70s some surfers discovered these giant waves just off the coast, within paddling distance. Of course, that didn’t make paddling to them very easy. For almost two decades these waves were kept a secret from the surfing community at large and became a myth to those involved in the sport. In 1994, their existence went public and the first person photographed on one was Jay Moriarity, a 15-year-old boy dropping in on them for the first time. As a matter of interest, he wiped out just after the photo was taken.

The crushing force of the giant waves would normally have killed a surfer of Moriarity’s experience, but he had been training to surf them for 12 weeks according to this movie, which is even more interested in the people behind this exciting sport than it is with the sport itself. Moriarity’s father skipped town when Jay was eight. After that he adopts a neighbor, played by Butler, as a surrogate father figure. Frosty Hesson was one of the few surfers who knew about the Mavericks and how to find them. He has some father issues of his own, but after some hemming, he finally decides to take Moriarity under his wing.

This is a formula movie. It follows the basic structure of any sports film. There’s a big end of the season goal to surf the Mavericks before El Niño ends. There are the set backs and the triumphs and the lessons to be learned along the way. Co-directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted keep their focus squarely on the characters the whole time. Nothing that happens is ever too spectacular, too melodramatic to believe. Moriarity’s mother is a mess. She doesn’t miraculously transform. He’s interested in a girl, who doesn’t just give in because he’s the hero of the movie. Mostly, it is about a good father-son relationship, a relationship that is only just now beginning to get its due in movies. Here it shows that such a relationship doesn’t have to exist between an actual father and son, but that father figure is so important. It’s good that Hollywood has finally realized that.

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