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‘Point Break: Collector’s Edition’ 4K UHD (Blu-ray review)

Point Break is a cult classic: the film occupies a space that was uncommon in 1991, and unheard of now: the action-thriller with A-list Hollywood talent. It is the mainstream equivalent of Action Movie Canon classics like Stone Cold or Rapid Fire, whereas those movies have long faded from the general public’s memory, Point Break has endured (in large part to Edgar Wright’s loving tributes in Hot Fuzz) as a quintessential “guys movie.”

Point Break is about the preposterously named Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves), a straight-laced FBI agent, who is assigned to infiltrate a cadre of surfers led by Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), whom the Bureau suspects may be a masked gang of bank robbers known as the “Dead Presidents”. The surfers, indeed, turn out to be the gang but in the fashion of a romantic comedy or a Hong Kong gangster movie Utah’s loyalties begin to shift as Bohdi’s worldview turns out to be exactly what he’s needed and he’s torn between the mission and his friendship.

The heart of Point Break is the chemistry between leads Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze, whose performances have an unusual level of vulnerability and genuine emotion behind them lacking the Eastwood inspired stoicism or the Connery-esque hint of irony that characterizes most action films. Indeed, the scene from the film that most stays in the mind of the general public is when Reeves has a shot at Bodhi escaping, and like a John Woo protagonist, fires his weapon into the air screaming because he cannot resolve the internal tension he’s feeling.

Bigelow’s direction is, as it has been throughout her career, workmanlike and the screenplay, written by W. Peter Iliff is clever. The exploration of extreme sports as a metaphor for life lived on its own terms is simple enough for any audience to read into the film and the film features characters who can be poetical and pretentious without feeling that way itself.  That’s no mean feat.

The cat-and-mouse game between Utah and Bodhi is supported by quality performances from Gary Busey as Reeves’ FBI handler and 90’s mainstay Lori Petty as the woman who teaches Utah to surf and acts as nominal love interest when Reeves and Swayze aren’t looking longfully at one another.

Those who read me on this site regularly know I specialize in Southeast Asian cinema and it may not come as a surprise that as I watched the film this time for critical review I was struck by the feeling that this was the closest the American cinema had ever come to the “heroic bloodshed” films of Hong Kong directors like John Woo, Ringo Lam, and Johnnie To.

Those films are built on stellar action and male camaraderie in a way that makes perfect cultural sense to the Chinese but can often be read as homoerotic to commenters from occidental countries. This film is probably the sharpest direction of action set-pieces in Bigelow’s career and the combination of intense male bonding and scenes like the skydiving sequence put me right in the mind of those “bullet ballets.”

While Point Break may not have received widespread critical acclaim upon its initial release, it has since gained a dedicated fan base and is regarded as a quintessential action film. It even lingered in the public impression clearly enough to justify a wretched 2015 remake that tried to capitalize on an extreme sports revival and isn’t worth watching for even camp value.

Extras include archival featurettes, making of doc, additional scenes, gallery, and trailers.

Though the film suffers from some pacing issues it marks a genuine attempt to do an action thriller on a hollywood budget with the very best talent available and generally holds up. This one is worth screening for your friends after Hot Fuzz to see what all the fuss is about.

Recommended.

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