This film analysis was written for Flip Screen while celebrating the last month of summer. The original post can be read here.
With this year’s releases of John Wick: Chapter 3, Always Be My Maybe, and Toy Story 4, along with the long-awaited sequel Bill and Ted Face the Music to be released in late 2020, it’s safe to say that we’re in the middle of a Keanu Reeves renaissance.
Fans are coming from every corner of Twitter to express their appreciation for the movie star while looking back towards his earlier movies and with the end of summer approaching, it has given much focus to Point Break. While Reeves isn’t a stranger to action movies, Point Break has become notable in his filmography, and the genre of action movies in general, for being directed by a woman. (Kathryn Bigelow would later become the first woman to win an Academy Award for Best Director in 2009 for The Hurt Locker.)
Action movies are purposely targeted towards a viewership made of heterosexual men, unfairly ignoring the women and members of the LGBTQ+ community that also enjoy those films. Point Break considers this assumption by applying the male gaze to scenes with Tyler Endicott (Lori Perry) so that the audience can see how Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) looks at her. Tyler does wear revealing outfits, but they’re within appropriate situations such as when she’s selling merchandise at a surf shop, so it does not feel contrived and feels less bothersome for the audience.
Along with this, Tyler serves a better purpose than most other female characters in action movies. She doesn’t exist within the story just as a love interest, but instead as a surf mentor to Johnny. This is a reversal of the usual roles, where the experienced male character often teaches his skills to his female counterpart who lacks the same expertise.
Tyler also shows a distinctive personality with her foul-mouthed comebacks and “no funny business” attitude to Johnny after he asks her for surfing lessons. She does not lose her relevance within the story of Point Break by acting as a gateway for Johnny to befriend Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) and his crew. Tyler reveals a part of Johnny’s character through his interactions towards her. The audience learns that he can’t say how he truly feels and makes bad decisions for the sake of a good time.
Point Break does apply the female gaze too. In the first scene, Johnny is drenched in the rain and practicing his shotgun skills. This visualization isn’t necessary towards furthering the movie’s plot and could have been done in warm weather instead. But the image of Johnny’s wet clothes sticking to his muscular body can be thought of a way to appeal to the audience that is attracted to Reeves.
As Johnny spends more time investigating the true identity of incognito bank robbers, he experiences difficulties with some co-workers. Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) thinks the Ex-Presidents cannot be found, failing to conceive that Johnny would have anything new to offer him with his twenty-two years of experience with bank robbery. Ben Harp (John C. McGinley) scolds Johnny for not making much progress in two weeks, despite knowing that being undercover takes time. This can be understood as a parallel towards a woman’s experience in the same field where she is being judged as being less worthy or incompetent based solely on her gender rather than her actual work and its results.
Johnny does not only feel like an outsider at his workplace, but within the surfing community as well. Before working with the FBI, Johnny was a former quarterback for Ohio State but lies to Tyler about growing up as an orphan. None of these qualities are shared with the other characters that he meets in Southern California.
When trying to understand his own character, Reeves summarizes Johnny as a “total control freak” who “loses the difference between right and wrong.” Johnny also faces “the ocean [that] beats him up and challenges him…” demonstrating that Johnny doesn’t belong with the people or even his environment. Point Break presents a protagonist that becomes more relatable to the audience, especially those who have never lived or visited Southern California. He’s not meant to just be a one-dimensional character who is only out to deliver justice against the bad guys. A little character development goes a long way, and this is why Point Break has remained in greatly popularity among Keanu Reeves fans.