There is absolutely no logical reason Breaking point (1991) should have become a classic. The plot is absurd. The dialogue is goofy. Almost every image is on top. Still, many, many people rank it as an all-time favorite movie. Or at least one of their favorite action movies of all time. And for good reason. Breaking point has all the makings of a totally forgettable cinematic footnote, but it’s one of the greatest and most unique American action films ever made.
Breaking point was a film in tune with the times – an encapsulation of movies and pop culture during that colorful transition from the 1980s to the 1990s – with the perfect director, cast, screenplay, style and timing. If you deliberately tried to cause this magic to happen again, the results would be horrendous. Do you doubt it? Try watching the 2015 remake. Actually, no, don’t do that to yourself. Just YouTube this amazing wingsuit scene.
Part of the genius of point break, and why it is so rewatchable is its structure. The plot revolves around a group of daredevils. Their main activities are surfing, solo free climbing and bank robbing. The idea of a semi-Zen gang of maverick surfers in Los Angeles taking repeated jabs at the system while dressing like ex-presidents is a dark and appealing conceit reminiscent of America’s obsession with Dillinger and James. . Yet these anti-establishment criminals of the modern counterculture work so fast, so cleanly, that no one is ever hurt – until they do.
In Breaking point these counterculture themes lurk in the background. You’re not even certain of the identity of the bank robbers until the end of the film, and you find out that they’re rock climbing and skydiving from some photos we see in a panning shot and from which Tyler (the always awesome Lori Petty) explains in a brief exposition dump. You don’t have to see it. This creates a distance that makes the gang more mysterious, and the turning point in the third act where we discover with certainty that Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and his surfer buddies are indeed the bank robbers is therefore more believable.
The movie doesn’t focus on criminals but on Johnny Utah – a name that rings even more falsely coming from young Keanu Reeves’ peach-tinted face. That’s another reason Breaking point has aged so well: it’s honest how corny it is, how film that is – from character names to action setup. This movie knows it’s a movie and winks at the viewer saying, “We know you know. Now enjoy this pure action fantasy.
Nothing about Breaking point portrays reality, and it’s not supposed to. It opens with Utah doing Hogan’s Alley style sparring practice in the to pay rain wearing a T-shirt and jeans. A dude in a hat whistles and points at him, and our drenched hero looks at the camera over his shoulder like he’s so cool he’s even forgotten he’s on a film set. He puts a chewing gum in his mouth and chews.
Utah leaps from his perch on a car trunk, stows his shotgun one-handed in slow motion, and begins blasting wooden targets while rolling and diving down the course. All of this is intercut with cinematic slow-motion shots of a Bodhi figure surfing at sunset.
The dude in an FBI jacket noting Utah’s performance hits a stopwatch, writes something, and yells, “One hundred percent, Utah!” Keanu flashes a movie star smile with his perfectly wet hair draped over his forehead and gives him a thumbs up. That is the tone of the whole film. It’s courting eye rolls that will turn into cheers, and he knows it.
“Stand back, Warchild. Seriously.’
Breaking point has a solid core of a storyline, peppered with plenty of crime and crime movie tropes, like the pairing of a salty middle-aged guy with a hotshot rookie, and a boss who always has his head up his ass and yells a lot . With the talented cast in place, director Kathryn Bigelow produced the roller coaster of a popcorn movie. It’s not a political statement about anything, and neither actor lived as a 17th-century shit-digger to get into character. Yes, there are comments about the evils of capitalism, but they’re only used as a way for the film’s criminals to justify the bank robbery.
If any element of Breaking point were removed or modified, the movie would not have worked. If Johnny and Bodhi’s oddly unwarranted but somehow all-natural bromance even had a slightly different tone, it might have been lackluster and generic. And nobody could have pulled off the Bodhi character without making you hate him, let alone root him, like Patrick Swayze. Man could say anything, and it works. Perfect example: “Stand back, Warchild. Seriously.”
There’s a rule in the game that says if you have to do or say something absurd, something that seems completely ridiculous and unrelated to reality, the only way to do it is to fully commit. Otherwise, no one will buy it. The late and great Patrick Swayze did it role after role. You can even imagine him on set coaching young Keanu Reeves with his performance: “No, kid. Say it like this: ‘I caught my first hit today. Sir.'”
Then there’s the classic burnt out, past prime, self-abusive but honest cop played by an energetic, overweight 1990s Gary Busey. His Angelo Pappas and Utah have great chemistry that hits differently than other police partner movie couples of the era. Utah is a slightly overconfident Blue Flame Special Agent, but he’s no cocky little jerk. Pappas is an exaggerated has-been, but he is not a completely miserable old bastard. He has fun with it, and so do we. And his performance never fails to plant a seed that will grow into a deep meatball sub craving. “Utah! Give me two!
A film is generally considered a classic because it can be watched over and over again. A reusable film is like a catchy song. He has a good hook, and every time you see him, it’s satisfying.
The rhythm of Breaking point is so excellent, and there are so many fun parts – the bank robberies, the house raid, the surfing scenes, the chases, John C. McGinley, the gas pump flamethrower, the Tom Sizemore cameo , the skydiving scenes, that ending – that it’s hard to get tired of watching it. It’s a movie that appears on cable at 11 p.m. that you can’t resist. There’s no choice but to shrug and sigh, “I guess I’m going to bed late tonight.” For this reason, and many more, Breaking point is eternal and the kind of exceptional pop-Hollywood action-adventure movie that we probably won’t see again for a long time, if ever. He’s as timeless as the waves, and knows it, and knows you know it. Vaya with Dios.
This article first appeared in the Winter 2022 edition of coffee or dieunder the title “Point Break: The Perfect Action Fantasy”.
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