When Aron Ralston fell down a crevice whilst out hiking and literally found himself between a rock and a hard place, he had two options: cut off his arm and live or wait to die. As Danny Boyle's 127 Hours graphically depicted, Ralston chose life.
Hawaiian teenager Bethany Hamilton had very little choice when it came to her amputation. While out surfing one morning, her left arm was severed completely in a shark attack. Bethany’s choice: to pursue her passion for surfing, no matter how difficult her new circumstances made it, or turn her hand (so to speak) to something else and away from the water she loved.
Soul Surfer is the not-so inspiring film of the inspiring story of Bethany Hamilton, who, following her shark attack that fateful (and, ironically, Halloween) morning, couldn’t wait to get back in the water and surf the waves she had known and loved since early childhood.
Director Sean McNamara’s film is as well intentioned as the Christian youth group leader (played by American Idol Carrie Underwood in her screen debut) who attempts to comfort Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) post-attack with platitudes about ‘God’s plan’. But just like Underwood’s performance (she’s no Idol alumni cum Oscar winner, Jennifer Hudson; sadly, she’s not even Christina Aguilera in Burlesque), Soul Surfer often comes off as cringe-inducing rather inspirational.
For despite the above average cast (Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt play Bethany’s parents; Hercules’ Kevin Sorbo is a family friend), McNamara has produced something more akin to a television movie of the week. The director, and his three fellow writers (adapting the similarly titled book penned by Hamilton, with Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh), only skim the surface of the ocean of emotions our female protagonist must have gone through in those days, weeks and months following the attack.
That surface treatment may work for TV, and be apt given it’s what the sport of surfing entails – rising above the tumult of the sea – but that does little to deepen or even capture the human element at the heart of this powerful true life story.
The true inspiration is Bethany Hamilton herself, shown in home movie footage during the film’s closing credits. Like Aron Rolston, the teenager chose life, dusting herself off and getting back out on the waves, literally and metaphorically.