Somehow watching action movies has become my thing. I literally watch them with a pen in hand, trying to break them apart, but I also enjoy them quite a bit. In fact, I think that my analysis makes me enjoy them that much more, because I consciously think about my expectations for the movie, and when those expectations are broken I find myself all the more surprised.
Yesterday I watched the 1991 movie Point Break, starring Patrick Swayze as a surf-guru / bank robber and Keanu Reeves as the FBI agent who has to infiltrate his gang of surfers.
This movie is madness. Who thought of it? This feels like it ought to be a comedy, but it is so serious. Even when Swayze starts spouting his surf philosophy stuff, the movie is like, “Yeah, listen up. This is the real stuff!”
What was interesting to me, after watching Die Hard and John Wick, was that this movie is not nearly as well-constructed. In Die Hard you know that robbers are eventually going to enter the building, so you’re just…waiting. And in John Wick, the gangsters come in about ten minutes into the movie, and from then on there’s a ticking clock: you know something bad will happen.
Point Break isn’t like that. The first third of the movie isn’t well-paced. About six minutes into the movie, they cut to the bank robbers executing a perfect 90 second robbery. But the FBI has no idea who the robbers are, and there’s also no sense of stakes: so they rob another bank? So what? Who cares? Nor is there any danger: the robbers have taken 27 banks without ever firing their weapons.
All of this leads to zero tension in the first 35 minutes of the movie. Basically you’re just watching it and being like, “When is Keanu gonna meet Patrick?” And it doesn’t happen until the thirty-fifth minute! And then after that there’s another ten minutes before anything bad happens.
But when shit does start happening, it happens so fast! They raid a bunch of other surfers and suddenly bodies are dropping everywhere! Then Keanu realizes Patrick is the real leader of the robbers! Then his cover gets blown when he tries to foil their robbery!
The moment the first person dies, the whole feel of the movie changes, because you realize: “Oh my god, this is a movie where somebody can die.”
The problem is that until that moment, it didn’t feel like that. If the movie was better-constructed, we’d have wondered from the beginning, “Hey…is it possible for someone to die in this movie?” And that would have propelled us through the first act.
For all that, the movie’s action sequences, when they actually started happening, were often quite interesting and suspenseful, particularly in the last third of the movie. But, of course, what sold the thing was Keanu’s relationship with Patrick. Or, really, what sold the movie was Patrick Swayze. He has these hypnotic eyes, and you completely believe in him both as a blissed out surfer and as a calculating and ruthless bank robber.
(On a sidenote, I’ve now seen Keanu Reeves in two movies from the opposite ends of his career, and I have to say that he’s become a much better actor. His performance in Point Break is laughable. Whenever he has to play the detached FBI agent or the carefree surfer, it’s fine, because those are both mellow performances. But when he has to emote, it’s completely unbelievable. Whereas in John Wick, the whole thing hinges on his understated grief over his wife’s death, and he sells that in a completely convincing manner. I suppose it’s not surprising, though, that in twenty five years a person would become slightly better at their profession.)