Who's In It: AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Kevin Sorbo, Carrie Underwood
The Basics: In this film based on a true story, we meet Bethany Hamilton (Robb) who has seawater in her veins and a family rich in their love for the water and their spirituality. Living in Hawaii, everything is fun and games until someone gets their arm bitten off by a shark, which happens to Bethany in a remote location while she was surfing with friends of the family. Showing great composure, she miraculously survives the attack and goes on to surf like a champion.
What's The Deal: There is no denying this is an amazing story. Bethany's chutzpah is the stuff that inspiring sports legends are made of--not many people can make it through such a traumatic event alive, much less continue to participate in the incredibly physically demanding sport they love and keep winning trophies. Robb is captivating as Bethany, bringing a lot of depth to the role that could have easily been overlooked by a less talented performer. In fact, there's not a weak link in the entire cast--everyone does a great job (except for Carrie Underwood, who should stick to singing). My only issue with this film was that watching it seemed to be similar to what Bethany went through in her first competition after the accident. I was sitting there, in the middle of the ocean, getting constantly pounded and sucked under by waves (or, in this metaphor, melodrama). It was kind of exhausting after awhile. My heart goes out to the real life Bethany, because I was ready to take my board and go home after only 110 minutes of enduring the ups and downs.
Water, Water, Everywhere: The cinematography in this film is gorgeous. Reminiscent of 2003's Step Into Liquid, the camera is everywhere in this film and each nuance of the wave is shown at one point or another. Shot by John Leonetti, cameras on surfboards and jet skis get inside, behind, over, and under the water. Technically, the editing and camerawork jells very nicely, walking the line between conventional and experimental, and gives the film a look that is never distracting but definitely compelling. Dialogue-driven scenes were locked down and steady as per normal convention, but the part after the shark attack gets the viewer right into Bethany's (fading) perspective. Now that I have an idea of what consciousness looks like after losing a limb, I'll stay on the shore, thanks.
Surfing Fun Facts: The cast does the majority of their own surfing in the film, and Robb learned from scratch in about a month, taking some lessons from Bethany herself. They used stunt surfers for big shots, and Bethany doubles for Robb in certain shots where they were able to use camera tricks to "match" their bodies.
About The Attack: I spent the entire first part of the film just waiting for that arm to get chomped off. The real-life attack happened very quickly and came from nowhere. Since it was shot at a different shutter angle than the rest of the film and was enhanced with CG, it appears onscreen in just that way. Although you see very little, it is very disturbing. Again, a nice technical achievement that resulted in me feeling off-kilter.