Inspirational movie’s got a lot of “Soul”

By Kate MacDonald


Awesome surfing sequences, a shark attack and great panoramic shots of a tropical paradise – sounds like a new action movie has hit the box office. Actually, “Soul Surfer” is much more.

“Soul Surfer” is based closely on the real-life struggles of Hawaiian-born Bethany Hamilton. Hamilton, played by AnnaSophia Robb, was a teenage professional surfer who, during a surfing day trip with her best friend’s family, was brutally attacked by a shark. She lost her left arm, but not her surfing dreams. The young surfer merely had to learn how to get past a few obstacles first.

Robb (“Bridge to Terabithia,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) was definitely the outstanding star of this movie. She plays Hamilton as a multi-faceted optimist, from her happy-go-lucky days as a teenager hanging out with friends to the frustrated girl who has to learn how to do everything differently. Some may find it strange that she never really gets upset with her situation (except for one surfing mishap), but that can be attributed to her unwavering faith.

“Soul Surfer” may not be everyone’s cup of tea for one particular reason – it’s heavy on Christian values and faith. Carrie Underwood contributes largely to this component of the film as Sarah, a sort of youth group leader. Though the film as a whole isn’t the sort that shoves religion down audiences’ throats, all of the singer’s scenes involve keeping the faith.

Somewhat surprisingly, Underwood didn’t provide any songs for the soundtrack of her big-screen debut. While her performance wasn’t awful, most notably one especially emotional and strong scene right after the attack, it is evident that this is Underwood’s first venture into acting. Perhaps with time her acting chops will get better, but it was a valiant effort.

The remainder of the cast was outstanding in their own right. Robb definitely carried the film, but the likes of Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt (as the Hamilton parents) and Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu (who played Bethany’s brothers Noah and Timmy, respectively) only added to the movie. Each character was well-developed and exhibited just the right amount of shock, anger and support.

Another actress making a serious venture into acting in “Soul Surfer” was legendary actor Jack Nicholson’s daughter Lorraine. Though she’s played bit parts in movies like “Click” and “Something’s Gotta Give,” she plays Bethany’s best friend and fellow pro surfer Alana Blanchard. She’s a great performer, and this will not be the last we see of her.

The soundtrack to the film was particularly good. While natural enough to blend into scenes perfectly, the talent featured was noticeable. Fairly well-known artists such as Michael Franti & Spearhead and Mat Kearney add two of the best songs of the film, but it’s Chris Sligh that shines with a slower rendering of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

Perhaps the best part about “Soul Surfer,” besides its obvious acting achievements, is the cinematography. In fact, “Soul Surfer” may be one of the most well-shot films of the year to date, thanks to cinematographer John R. Leonetti. Featuring amazing high-octane surfing scenes and great panoramic views of the Hawaiian coastline and mountains, the camera shots range from simple and beautiful to complex and captivating, especially the underwater shots.

The camera stays steady for the most part, except for when it is shaky and almost sickening from the moment of the shark attack to Bethany’s arrival at the hospital. Instead of being annoying, this adds heightened uneasiness and action to the sequence.

“Soul Surfer” is one of those films that, after the audiences view it, they know it’s destined to do great in both the box office and during awards season. It truly has something for everyone: awesome surfing scenes, emotional trials and even wit. As if that’s not enough, it’s a story of dealing with some of the biggest obstacles a person can face, and finally overcoming them with strength and grace.

Kate MacDonald can be reached at [email protected]