Bethany Hamilton is a 21-year-old resident of Kauai, Hawaii who says that she was born to be a surfer. On the morning of Halloween, 2003, she lost her left arm to a 15-foot tiger shark while surfing.
The true story of Hamilton’s ordeal comes alive in the new film Soul Surfer, starring Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid and AnnaSophia Robb.
In some ways, it bears comparison to the Oscar-nominated 127 Days, the movie adaptation of the true-life struggle of Aron Ralston, who had to cut off his own arm to wrench himself free of a giant boulder that had pinioned him while he was rock-climbing in southern Utah.
Hamilton’s story is no less gripping. The child of surfer parents who moved to Hawaii from California in the ’80s, she started surfing at the age of five, and was competing by the time she was eight.
The morning that she lost her arm to the shark, Hamilton was dangling it in the surf as she paddled back to shore, when she felt an immense pressure and saw the water turn red as a large gray blur scuttled away beneath her.
Quick thinking on the part of her surfing companions helped her as they fashioned an emergency tourniquet out of a shirt, and she paddled frantically the quarter-mile toward shore.
Nevertheless, doctors declared that she had lost 60 per cent of her blood, as they rushed her to a hospital bed ironically being vacated by her father, who had been scheduled for knee surgery that very morning.
Soul Surfer probably won’t win any awards for its actors, who turn in adequate performances – with the exception of 21-year-old AnnaSophia Robb, who excels.
Dennis Quaid, whose last role of any significance was as a general in 2009’s GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra, is supportive and stolid in his performance as Hamilton’s father.
Helen Hunt, who won a Best Actress Oscar for her role in 1997 opposite Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets, is featured in a creditable performance as Hamilton’s mother.
Robb conveys an inspiring spirit of determination and strength of character, in the face of extreme adversity that would throw most of us into despair.
She exults as she faces the waves again, a bare month after her accident, and a year after that places first in the Hawaiian national professional surfing championships.
In between, she works with World Vision in Thailand after its devastating 2004 tsunami. Here, she learns to put her own personal tragedy in perspective, as she helps orphaned children learn to surf, conquering their own fears of the sea that has so devastated their lives.
The real star of Soul Surfer is the surf itself. The film’s photography is vibrant and magnificent.
Filmed on location in Hawaii, it holds us spellbound as we watch amazing footage of surfers cresting, spinning and riding atop giant waves. Many of the film’s surfing sequences were performed by Hamilton herself, her body morphed onto the face of Robb through the wonders of CGI, which also produces the actress’s left arm stump.
Soul Surfer is a film that’s not only excellent family entertainment, but is one that portrays the human spirit at its best, refusing to give in to defeat and going on to serve as a shining example to everyone who struggles everywhere.
Soul Surfer plays at the Qwanlin Cinema at 7:15 and 9:15 pm, and is rated G.
Brian Eaton is a cinema buff who reviews current films and writes on other film-related topics on a regular basis.