Gerard Butler may be the star of Chasing Mavericks, but in terms of the story’s driving force, he is a clear supporter of the waves and Jonny Weston, who plays Jay Moriarity. We meet the young surfing sensation in the film’s early moments and his passion for the water is crystal clear.
Chasing Mavericks is the story of Moriarity and his teenage dream of surfing the biggest waves in the world. North of California’s Santa Cruz area, at certain times of the year and when the weather is right, enormous 35-foot or higher waves land to a select few’s delight as hardly anyone knows exactly where this magical surf spot specifically is. By chance, the young surfer discovers it.
Moriarity corrals his neighbor and fellow surfing aficionado Frosty Hesson (Butler) into training him to tackle the elusive Mavericks. The way Hesson figures it -- they have months before the stars align. See, Weston gives us the impression through his performance that Moriarity is so determined to attack Mavericks that Butler's Hesson must train him or his conscience won’t forgive him for the kid’s downfall.
Two elements of the film strike us most for our Chasing Mavericks review. The first is the periphery stories that surround, support and add depth of emotion to the danger that is the mind-blowing surfing action sequences. Elisabeth Shue stars as Kristy Moriarity, Jay’s mother. As dad disappeared a decade ago, she’s a single mom and trying her best to hold down a job and support her son. There’s also the familial plot of Butler’s Hesson clan. His wife and children storyline is heartwarming and crushingly honest.
The second highlight of the movie are the scenes where people are putting board to moving walls of water. Co-directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted have joined forces with crews that have given audiences some of the most breathtaking ocean surfing experiences ever chronicled on film. Between its sound design and camera work by some of the world’s best surfing photographers, Chasing Mavericks should satisfy that community.
As told to us in our Michael Apted exclusive interview, Hanson did pre-production and shot half the film and fell ill. Apted stepped in and filmed the last half and did all of the post-production work. The film is seamless from that perspective and in fact, Hanson, Apted and their sound and visual effects teams deserve Oscar consideration for the work they did bringing the thunderous power of nature firmly into the audience's lap.
With all of the pluses, the minuses of Chasing Mavericks are relatively minor. It’s hard to argue with a true story, but some of the scenes that the creative team chose to further the story’s emotion felt forced under the weight of its own potential. Also, it is hard to sympathize with Jay's love story as Leven Rambin's love interest is not allowed to do much with her character, given how much of the surfing story needed to be told.
But when it comes to surfing movies, and Hollywood’s spotty track record… Chasing Mavericks is a must-see. When one thinks about the millions doing the sport every day, thanks to the film... this writer suddenly possesses a new appreciation for the unshakable passion that is shared by the world surfing collective.