The filmmakers boast “some of the most mind-blowing wave footage ever captured on film”, and co-directors Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson do not disappoint. The unbounded power of the ocean depicted here brings tremendous drama to the surfing scenes, and at times it seems the unpredictability of this force, so much greater than the tiny bodies tiptoeing on their boards, might actually snap in-two, bringing the story to an unexpected end.
But when the surf reaches the shore and the waves flatten out, so too does the films pace and tension. Without his wet suit on Jay Moriarty (Jonny Weston), the real life surfing legend on whom the film is based, loses intrigue and we find ourselves waiting for that next big wave, not that there is any lack of drama in the plot. The true story of the relationship between Moriarty and his surfing mentor-cum-father figure Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler) is peppered with enough misfortune and tragedy to last at least half an episode of Eastenders. On paper, the story is perfect for film, and, to be fair, the screenwriters have done a good job in juggling the emotional complexities of the many people in Moriarty’s life, from his depressive mother to his hesitant first love.
Added clumsily to the mix are scenes clearly designed to make the story morally relatable to those outside the immediate Santa Cruz area. With so many big stories to tell, everything is dealt with too broadly. Complex issues become predictable and, consequently, are clichéd enough to lose much of their potency. Yet, reaching its inevitable climax, there is something undeniably likeable about ‘Chasing Mavericks’. Perhaps this attraction comes from newcomer Weston and his nicely downplayed portrayal of the infectiously positive Jay.
In the meantime, Butler proves he is not only conqueror of the Persians, but of the oceans too, in his surprisingly subtle playing of Frosty, Jay’s reluctant hero. Or maybe it’s just not possible to make a horrible movie about something as inherently cool as surfing, with all the floppy hair and California beach vibes that go with it. In the end, Chasing Mavericks is an uplifting film that succeeds in ensuring the story and legacy of the surfing worlds own hero will spread far beyond the waves.