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Soul Surfer
Genre Sport

Only a surfer knows the feeling. It's a saying that has been reserved for that rush of sheer exhilaration as you catch the perfect wave into shore, that moment of blinding truth that connects you with nature - that driving force that motivates you to get up early and break the ice. For Bethany Hamilton that dream was cut short by a shark...

As a Hawaiian local, she was devastated by a shark attack that changed her life in a flash. From an aspiring professional surfer to a stranded bystander - it seemed as though her surfing career was over. Friends and witnesses to the attack, speak of her bravery and cool-headed response to what should've been a panic-stricken struggle for survival. The same bravery and stubborn determination that saved her life, carried her back into the waves - minus an arm.

How do you surf without an arm? Paddling out, duck-diving... it's a mission, but not impossible. Bethany Hamilton is living testament to the triumph of the human spirit. She hasn't let her disability get in the way of her passion for surfing and people. Much like South Africa's very own swimming champion, Natalie du Toit, Hamilton has become a national sensation, an inspiration and a role model. Soul Surfer commits her amazing true story to film.

The biographical sports drama has been lovingly created by a team led by writer-director Sean McNamara. The director has become synonymous with solid and satisfying family dramas, movies that are hard to come by in this day and age. While most of his experience has been earned from television productions, Soul Surfer is the true test of McNamara's mettle... taking a true story and shooting on-location in Hawaii to deliver a well-balanced film that adds up to its quality ingredients.

McNamara's job has been made easier thanks to a phenomenal cast including: AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Craig T. Nelson and Carrie Underwood. The talented and beautiful young AnnaSophia Robb, best known for her role in Bridge to Terabithia, stars as Bethany Hamilton. Her performance is nuggety, willful and mature, powered by a mental reserve that is honest, humble and inspiring. She's supported by experienced co-stars, Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets) and Dennis Quaid (Frequency), who play her parents with great chemistry and conviction, as if she were their own.

The choice to shoot on location grounds the film. The beautiful landscapes, natural environment and serene shooting location must have made the ensemble feel like they were on holiday and it really looks like they're enjoying every minute! This shines through in the film, giving the audience an opportunity to immerse themselves in the story, the nature and the flow of life.

The CGI is extraordinary - not so much the short-lived shark attack as much as Hamilton's amputated arm. AnnaSophia Robb must've spent hours with her arm restrained... learning to get by without the use of her hand. How they managed to block her arm out is a curiosity that really deserves its own special feature on the DVD. They've made the amputated arm blend into the shot to the point that Robb's character becomes the actual victim herself.

The surfing action has also been handled well from convincing us that Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid can hold their own (maybe they can) to giving Hamilton's character top draw moves with convincing one-armed surfing stunts. The suspense of disbelief is held consistently and there's no shying away from showing Robb without her arm, giving us no shadow of doubt and allowing us to focus on the story instead of the disability.

Soul Surfer is also a clean film. Surfing imbibes its own sense of purity, but McNamara has managed to go one up on peer movies like Blue Crush that trade on beach babes and sexual tension. There's a moral fibre that doesn't sway to gratuitous violence or sexuality to sell the story. The power is in the truth, making the highs higher and the lows lower without losing perspective in Hollywood. This is probably attributed to the faith of the Hamiltons, a Christian family, who are comparable with the Swiss Family Robinson.

Bethany Hamilton's story is an inspiration, taking what would ordinarily be a lifelong setback and turning her life into a beacon of hope for all survivors, showing that perseverance and hard work do pay off. The film closes with actual footage of Hamilton, with many documented moments echoing scenes from the film. Soul Surfer is a satisfactory family drama, which is buoyed by its solid performances, Hawaii's natural beauty and this inspirational real-life story.

The bottom line: Spirited.

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