Close this search box.

Point Break Film Review: Surf’s Up!

Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze sit on the beach, the latter holding a surf board, in the film Point Break

Point Break is a full-throttle action showcase that capitalises on its ‘90s flare and rides the wave right until the end.

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Genre: Action, Crime, Thriller
Run Time: 122′
Release Date: July 12, 1991
Where to watch: on digital & VOD

Although The Hurt Locker might be Kathryn Bigelow’s most famous and critically acclaimed project so far, the film that’s undeniably had the most real-world impact is her 1991 action thriller Point Break – and not just because it kick-started Keanu Reeves’ track record of showstopping action films, but simply because it made surfing cool.

The story follows a group of surfers-turned-robbers who attempt to pull off a string of high-stakes bank robberies on the side, until they’re infiltrated by an FBI agent posing as one of their own. It’s the definition of a cat-and-mouse chase that keeps getting more and more intense with every passing minute, with Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze giving two of their most entertaining performances as the cop and the criminal who struggle to separate their own friendship from the job at hand.

What’s so special about Point Break in contrast to other ‘90s action blockbusters is that none of the set pieces feel cheap or hollow, because Bigelow intersperses the action with a genuinely touching story about friendship and belonging that gives the narrative a whole extra layer of sentimentality. You’re not just watching an FBI agent try to catch a criminal, but rather two friends brought together by their love of something that stands in the way of who they want to be, and the barriers they need to cross in their personal and professional lives to get there. The deep character work is something that often goes forgotten in Point Break, but it’s the very reason that the story works so well. The story is constantly playing with the duality between duty and pleasure, friendship and mistrust, and most simply, good and bad.

While it’s Bigelow’s dynamic direction and Rick King and W. Peter Illif’s screenplay that lay the foundations for such a solid story, it’s the chemistry between Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze that really makes Point Break work. For this story to have any weight, the audience needs to believe that these characters care about each other and their shared interests enough to overcome the simplicity of their situation, and their on-screen presence totally sells that. There’s a clear-cut good guy and bad guy dynamic at play, but it’s never easy to know who you’re supposed to be rooting for at any particular time, and that just wouldn’t work without these two actors at the helm.

Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze are in the water, standing opposite each other with wet clothes, in the film Point Break
Point Break (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Point Break separates itself from other ‘90s action fests by incorporating a clear niche into its story: surfing. It might seem like a novelty on the surface, or merely something to give the characters backstory, but the sport is such a fundamental part of this story that most action films just don’t bother to include. It works because Bigelow’s film doesn’t just gloss over this aspect of the story as something the characters are interested in, but really brings it to the forefront of the narrative in a bold way that could’ve easily seemed cheesy or unnecessary but ends up being surprisingly moving. For these characters, surfing is their entire life, so it really pays off for Bigelow not just to explain why, but to make the audience feel it themselves. It’s almost impossible to believe that surfing wasn’t originally going to be included in the story at all, because it’s hard to imagine how the story would remain so endearing without it. 

While Kathryn Bigelow might’ve steered away from the action blockbuster in the later part of her career, it’s clear that she understands the genre in a way that many directors don’t. Point Break might be corny in parts and definitely feels a little dated when you’re not looking at it through that romantic ‘90s lens, but the foundations of the story are just as strong today as they were over 30 years ago. The blend of practical stunts and tactfully directed action sequences made it really stand out within the genre, while the engaging screenplay and complex characters give it an extra dimension outside of the action world – a feat that very few movies of that era can lay claim to.

Get it on Apple TV

Point Break is now available to watch on digital and on demand in various countries. In the UK, the film will be released on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD and digital on demand 5 August, 2024, from Icon Film Distribution.

Point Break: Trailer (Icon Film Distribution)

Loud and Clear Reviews has an affiliate partnership with Apple, so we receive a share of the revenue from your purchase or streaming of the films when you click on the button on this page. This won’t affect how much you pay for them and helps us keep the site free for everyone.

Thank you for reading us! If you’d like to help us continue to bring you our coverage of films and TV and keep the site completely free for everyone, please consider a donation.