Point Break: Redux


Once he discovers his newfound friends and mentor are actually the ex-presidents, Johnny draws his line. During a botched stakeout shortly after, Utah reveals his identity when he pursues them in an attempt to capture.

He finds he can’t bring himself to shoot the leader, Ex-President Bodhi-disguised-as-Ronald Reagan, and repeatedly discharges his firearm into the sky in an expression of rage and frustration. His loyalty remains compromised, and as a result, the presidents take him hostage and force him to accompany them as the only unmasked member of the gang on what turns out to be their final robbery.

That ultimate robbery is significant for a number of reasons, but as in the case of every addict, Bodhi pushes the envelope and things go catastrophically wrong. For the first time, Reagan directs the other presidents to raid the vault, breaching their established 90 second time limit. In this extra time, an off-duty police officer ignites a gunfight during which a number of civilians, and one of the presidents – are killed.

One of the hallmarks of the script quality for Point Break thus far has been the dramatic potential in each of the scene’s propositions. In this instance, what happens when one of the customers is armed and decides to take matters into their own hands? In the case of the off-duty cop, this is an especially poignant question.

If, in fact, his sworn duty is ‘to serve and protect’, triggering a gunfight in a small space where he is overwhelmingly outnumbered, putting civilians at very great risk, says a lot about his character.

It suggests he is an adrenaline junkie at the somewhat psychopathic end of the spectrum, due to the fact that like Bodhi, he is content to make a decision for his own reasons, placing a large number of innocent people at very grave risk as he does so.

The entire scene, the nexus of so much dramatic potential, swiftly devolves into ‘action’. It was around this time that the film lost me. It isn’t simply that the script ceased to explore its contradictions possibilities; it plunged past them on a full-throttle descent into cliché, swept along through the skydiving and robbery scenes. 

The principal casualty of this may be Taylor. She ceases to have any kind of struggle, or aim; she simply becomes a hostage and ceases to act, or do, anything of her own volition. She becomes a token to be passed between one man and another, photographed as a sexual object during her portrayal as a victim. As Simone De Beauvior would say, she is reduced to ‘immanence’. 

I think all films of this ilk harken back to Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, a director it’s hard to forget when examining cinematic violence. Moreover, he is a useful marker in terms of the American fascination with and exploration of violence, and those who commit it.

However, Peckinpah’s eulogy of the old west, The Wild Bunch, presents a group of morally ambiguous characters who are easily interpreted as repulsive, and Peckinpah leaves that interpretation with the audience.

Point Break, on the other hand, is so bone-headed it just goes straight for the hagiography, giving its lead actor a glorious death, and leaving its audience with a jumble of unresolvable ideas to either fiddle with or simply ignore.

The botched robbery articulates Bodhi in an interesting way; he has made his former girlfriend (the current girlfriend of his friend) a hostage to be brutally slaughtered should things not work out the way he wants them to. Further, the failure of the robbery is due to, in no small part, the fact that he decided to empty the vault, because he got greedy.

There is an absence of concern for the general public, and the risk that something might go wrong and result in the death of an innocent person. These very simple concerns, standing clear and stark in the foreground of The Wild Bunch, are entirely absent from this film.

If action cinema has become ‘dumber’, a trend reflected by a slew of increasingly bland and mindless films which are one dazzling sequence after another connected by the most threadbare of stories, perhaps we have films like Point Break to thank.  

John Pilger criticised a later Kathryn Bigelow film, The Hurt Locker, as the story of ‘another standard-issue psychopath high on violence in somebody else’s country.’ In a similar vein, Point Break suggests that beneath the surface, every red-blooded Caucasian male is dying to engage in a bit of carnage and mayhem.  

Either side of the criminal justice system, the game of cops and robbers, provides catharsis for this desperate need to engage in some kind of violent expression.

Gary Cooper’s Will Kane and Eastwood’s Dirty Harry Callaghan, both of whom throw away their badges at the end of High Noon and Dirty Harry, do so as a sign that they are sickened and disgusted by the fact that in pursuit of monsters, they have become nothing more than monsters themselves.

When Johnny Utah hurls his badge into the surf at Bell’s Beach, it’s hard to read it as anything more than a cliché. And given the context of the previous two films, how has Johnny lost his faith? Faith in what? The bromance?

Given I had started this post with the intention of passing an idle Saturday night while enjoying a classic film, the following criticism may seem like evidence of a disappointing outcome. However, there is another way to look at this: perhaps these kinds of insights are indicative of both growth and discernment on the part of the viewer.

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