Film review: Chasing Mavericks
Starring: Jonny Weston, Gerard Butler, Abigail Spencer
Directors: Michael Apted, Curtis Hanson
There are at least four Hong Kong locations called Big Wave (Tai Long in Cantonese) but none of them are home to waves even half the size of the waves frequently found at Mavericks - a surfing location in Northern California that regularly sees waves (also called mavericks) over 25 feet and is the setting for the film Chasing Mavericks.
Based on a the true story of surfing legend Jay Moriarity, this sports drama begins with a shot of its protagonist floating underwater rather than surfing (for reasons that are revealed later on in the film) before going back to 1987, when the Santa Cruz, California, resident was only eight years old. Moriarity is clearly already fascinated by the ocean and its waves, and is imbued with the kind of courage that big wave surfers need as a matter of course.
But while those attributes sometimes served him well, they also often led him into dangerous situations. In one particular instance, if not for the intervention of his neighbour, ace surfer Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler, who also executive produced the film), Jay (played as a young boy by Cooper Timberline) would not have lived to see his ninth birthday. But survive he did. What's more, the youngster came away from the experience with a new hero and a strong resolve to learn how to surf the waves like him.
Flash forward seven years and Jay is now a 15-year-old high school sophomore portrayed by the boyish-looking Jonny Weston. One day, he tails his hero up the Californian coast and beholds Frosty and a few of his friends riding waves whose size threaten to take his breath away. Jay decides he too wants to surf the huge waves but realises that he'll need to be trained by Frosty before he can attempt to do so.
When approached, Frosty initially refuses to entertain Jay. But after his understanding wife Brenda (Abigail Spencer) points out that Frosty is the closest Jay has to a father figure (after his own father left his mother, played by Elizabeth Shue, when he was young) the older man takes the teenager under his wing and on an exacting training programme designed to help Jay surf and survive the Mavericks surf break.
Despite some production hiccups (including Michael Apted having to replace ailing original director Curtis Hanson midway through production, and Gerard Butler needing to be hospitalised after an on-set accident), Chasing Mavericks manages to deliver dramatic spills and thrills.
The cast play their parts, and fresh-faced newcomer Weston impresses, even though his youthful character can sometimes seem almost too good to be true. And even though Butler can't completely suppress his Scottish accent, his presence in the film is more of a plus than a minus.
Still, there's no mistaking that the real stars of the film are the beautiful visuals and spectacular surf footage that come courtesy of cinematographer Bill Pope. When they are accompanied by a pleasing score (by composer Chad Fischer) and soundtrack (with songs by alternative rock bands such as the Butthole Surfers) they make for genuine sensory delight.