I recently watched a 60 Minutes Sports piece by Anderson Cooper on surfing. While I've always regarded the sport as kinda' silly, Cooper's analysis made surfing interesting to me for the first time. In that 60 Minutes Sports segment, a surfer talked about how incredible it felt to be washed around in the ocean, at the mercy of the water and the waves. What sounds terrifying also sounds quite beautiful, at least in my opinion.
Chasing Mavericks does a good job of showing the human side of these kinds of adrenaline junkies who take pleasure in being smashed around at the beach. The film centers on Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston)'s journey to surf the mythical Maverick surf breaks. He turns to local surf legend Frosty Hesson to train him and the two take on a very father-son relationship.
All the usual tropes of an inspirational/sports/family film are here. Bullies. Drunk parent. Emotionally damaged mentor figure. That doesn't mean the film suffers in any way, in fact, the surfing footage is quite impressive. Jay Moriarty falls under the category of "soul surfer" in that the sport wasn't the attractive thing to him, it was the general sensation of being out on the water, enjoying the sun and conquering one's fears associated with surfing the enormous maverick waves.
What's of note here, production-wise is that Curtis Hansen apparently had to drop out near the end of production due to health reasons. Veteran director Michael Apted took over and both are credited on the final film. There aren't any noticeable tone differences with the film, however; I've noticed something about Hansen's more recent films: his actors have a certain wooden quality to them. That said, while Elisabeth Shue and Gerard Butler are fine and newcomer Jonny Weston is okay, the rest of the cast feels weak. Sure, there are moments when Butler isn't particularly spectacular, but his charisma makes up for it. Everyone has the requisite sun-kissed look to them, which makes sense. It's an obvious thing, but a lot of movies don't go out of their way to show characters who genuinely look involved in the vocation or sport of the character they're playing. Something I noticed, however; was that Weston seemed to have orange-y streaks near his mouth and on his t-zone on his forehead. Bronzer application areas behind the scenes? Not really sure but super noticeable. He sometimes resembles Spaghett from the Tim & Eric sketches.
The soundtrack is solid. An eclectic mix of classic 90's tracks from the Butthole Surfers, Offspring and more. I found myself really digging Hansen/Apted's choice of tunes. There are times where the film's score kicks in and is a bit heavy-handed, however; I found myself enjoying the song selection more often than not. The use of Mazzy Star's 1993 hit "Fade Into You" does a great job of encapsulating that sweet moment of young love we all remember. Watching Moriarty and long-time friend Kim fall for one-another is a genuinely sweet chapter of the young surfer's life.
There's tragedy in the cards for both Hesson and Moriarty. Butler does a great job playing the broken man with a doting wife, while Moriarty plays parent to his drunk mother. Both characters are men on the same spectrum, seeking out mavericks, testing themselves and the sport they love. Surfing, as cliche as it sounds, isn't just something to do on the weekend to these guys. It's made abundantly clear early on that this is life. As natural as breathing is to a human, surfing is part of their DNA.
Jay Moriarty would later die during a diving trip, however; he's regarded as one of the finest surfers in history. Chasing Mavericks isn't a terrible legacy to leave behind. The film's wave visuals are incredible, the acting, though spotty at times, is solid overall. The story of hard work combined with training and friendship is universal.
Blu-ray Bonus Features
Audio commentary by Michael Apted, Brandon Hooper and Jom Meenaghan, Deleted Scenes, Surf City, Shooting Waves, Live Like Jay, Surfer Zen
"Chasing Mavericks" is on sale February 26, 2013 and is rated PG. Sports. Directed by Curtis Hanson, Michael Apted. Written by Kario Salem. Starring Elisabeth Shue, Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston.