out of Five
Running time: 106
Soul Surfer tells an undeniably inspirational story and features a strong central performance from AnnaSophia Robb, but it's ultimately let down by some heavy-handed sentimentality, an over-abundance of Bible-bashing and some dodgy CGI sequences.
What's it all about?
Directed by Sean McNamara, Soul Surfer is based on a true story and stars AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany Hamilton, a teenage girl whose promising career as a surfing champion in Kauai is cut brutally short when she loses her arm in a freak shark attack. However, Bethany is determined to get back on the board and return to her former glory and she receives a new boost of courage after she volunteers for relief work with her church group in tsunami-struck Thailand.
AnnaSophia Robb is excellent as Bethany and there's strong work from both Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as her ultra-supportive parents, while Lorraine Nicholson is effective as Bethany's best friend Alana. In addition, the surfing sequences are extremely impressive and beautifully directed, while there's no denying the inspirational nature of the central story.
The main problem with the film is that you're never in any doubt as to where it's going (the poster is kind of unintentionally hilarious in this regard) and as a result it rather overdoes the sentimentality. Similarly, the script indulges in some fairly heavy-handed Bible-bashing, which may well be true to Bethany's own story, but doesn't quite translate on screen.
On top of that, the shark attack sequence is badly handled and there's some extremely dodgy CGI, where Robb's face has very obviously been digitally super-imposed onto someone else's body, to the point where it takes you out of the film. Also, as the end credits reveal, there's actually a phenomenal amount of real-life home movie footage of Bethany's story (even including the moment she first stands up on her board after her accident), which begs the question, why didn’t the filmmakers make a documentary instead (the answer, possibly, is that the real-life Bethany isn't – or at least, wasn't - nearly as photogenic as a teenager).
Despite an undeniably inspirational story and a strong central performance from AnnaSophia Robb, Soul Surfer is ultimately a little disappointing, thanks to a heavy-handed, script and some cheap-looking CGI.