(PG) AnnaSophia Robb, Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt
Bethany Hamilton’s story is an inspiring one. She hails from Kauai, Hawaii, and always enjoyed natural talent as a surfer.
At the age of 13, her future looked bleak when a 15-foot tiger shark bit off her left arm in a well-publicised attack. The fact that she survived — despite losing 60 per cent of her blood — is a miracle pure and simple.
The Hamilton family wrote a book and there is another short film about Bethany’s ordeal, but the new feature length film Soul Surfer tackles her story with integrity and truthfulness. The potential to sensationalise the film is restrained and for a mainstream film it tackles matters of faith head-on without compromise.
The Hamiltons have always been up front about their faith and the film is just as overt about exploring the role that faith played in Bethany’s recovery and continues to play in her everyday life
AnnaSophia Robb (Race to Witch Mountain, Bridge to Terabithia) is strong in the central role, capturing both Bethany’s resilience and her vulnerability with natural charisma. She seems older than 13 but this doesn’t detract from the overall story.
The Hamiltons have always been up front about their faith and the film is just as overt about exploring the role that faith played in Bethany’s recovery and continues to play in her everyday life. In opening scenes, Bethany attends a beach church service; the family pray and consult the Bible for relevant scriptures to help understand the tragedy.
There’s another scene, more than a year after the shark attack, where Bethany joins her youth group on a World Vision-sponsored mission trip to Thailand, several months after the tsunami of December 2004. After seeing the devastation, meeting orphans, and connecting with a people who also had good reason to fear going back into the water, Hamilton gains additional perspective on living in the wake of tragic circumstances.
Director Sean McNamara captures the strong central cast most effectively in the smaller, more nuanced moments of the film, where seasoned actors Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt (who portray Bethany’s parents) and AnnaSophia Robb portray a family grieving, grappling, and growing through tragedy.
The big question of the film — why does God allow bad things to happen? — is addressed well considering Bethany’s age and experience. Her faith certainly comes through the film to reveal a family glued together by God and integrity.
This is an excellent film, particularly for young adults. Bethany, aside from her obvious talent in the water, is an excellent role model for young Christian women.
It must be noted that the shark attack scene in the film and its emotional aftermath, though brief and not gratuitous makes this film not suitable for the really young.