Released 30 years ago this year, Point Break premiered in theatres on July 12, 1991 and was a huge hit, catapulting Keanu Reeves into action hero status from his humble Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure roots, and further cementing Patrick Swayze as a bankable star. The film has gone on to become a cult classic, and it spawned imitators, The Fast Saga, and a remake in 2015. The film’s director, Kathryn Bigelow, went on to direct a magnitude of action films, and won an Oscar® for 2008’s The Hurt Locker. Point Break is currently available for free steaming on Peacock. But warning—it’s insanely watchable and hard to turn off.
Written by: Rick King & W. Peter Iliff
Directed by: Kathryn Bigelow
Genre: Institutionalized (Mentor Institution)
Genre cousins: Training Day, The Departed, Donnie Brasco, Wall Street, Dead Poet’s Society, The Devil Wears Prada, Swimming With Sharks
Opening Image: A juxtaposition of Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) in sunny California and Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) in Quantico, Virginia shooting in the pouring rain for his final FBI exam on the target range. The motif of water ties the contrasting scenes together. Soon they’ll meet—and it will be explosive!
Set-Up: Utah is assigned to the Los Angeles branch. In the Institutionalized genre, Johnny is the non-field-tested agent who joins the Federal group. He’ll later have to make a choice and a sacrifice. He’s given the tour by Company Man, Chief Agent Ben Harp (John C. McGinley). He’s later introduced with Special Agent Angelo Pappas (Gary Busey) in a “meet cute” during a swimming pool training exercise. Pappas is the seasoned Brando who’s been there 22 years. He’ll mentor Naif Utah about some unorthodox investigative work.
Theme Stated: Harp gives Johnny the rundown of the place, talking about sacrifice and hard work. That’s what Johnny will have to do—sacrifice everything: his partner, his love for a girl, and possibly his own life, to do what’s right.
Set-Up (cont’d): The Ex-Presidents, methodical men wearing suits and rubber Halloween masks of the former heads of state—Reagan, Johnson, Carter, and Nixon—rob another bank. They’re fast and surgical, only going for the cash drawers, never the vault, which burns time. They’re in and out in 90 seconds.
Catalyst: As they’re investigating the latest bank robbery, Agent Pappas reveals his theory to Utah that the Ex-Presidents are surfers. He’s laughed at by fellow colleagues in the bureau, but the seasoned G-man convinces his newly minted partner.
Debate: Agents Pappas and Utah’s investigation narrows in on the beaches due to some physical evidence. Utah needs to learn to surf to understand these criminals. Possibly rub carnauba wax with them. However, he’s bad at the sport and nearly drowns. He’s saved by Tyler Ann Endicott (Lori Petty), who tells him he has no business surfing.
B Story: Agent Utah focuses in on Tyler—she’s going to be his way in into this new world. Is it professional or is it love? She shows him the moves on how to surf. Using the FBI’s file to know more about her, Johnny “connects” with her, lying that his parents died in an accident the same as hers did. She’ll help bring out the best in Johnny, and he’s willing to sacrifice his life for her.
Break into Two: Johnny Utah learns of—and meets—Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), short for the Boddhisatva. The Zen master on a surfboard is in search of the “ultimate ride.” And little does Johnny know, he’s found his ringleader, as well as a new spiritual mentor.
Fun and Games start here, literally, with a friendly game of beach football between Johnny and Bodhi. It gets a little tense, but Bodhi recognizes Utah from a college football game. And just like that, the undercover FBI agent is accepted into the underground group, which consists of Grommet (Bojesse Christopher), Nathanial (John Philbin), Roach (James LeGros), and non-surfer Rosie (Lee Tergesen).
Feeling pressure from above for a bust, Agents Utah and Pappas get a strand of hair sample from LBJ’s ponytail. Methodically taking hair samples from shaggy beachcombers, the agents get a match at Latigo Beach, which has a nice “point break,” a promise of the premise poster moment.
Johnny, who has a run in with Bunker Weiss (Chris Pedersen), has a bonding experience with Bodhi when he fights the rest of a confrontational surf Nazi gang: Warchild (Vincent Klyn), Tone (Anthony Kiedis), and Archbold (Dave Olson).
Johnny finds his possible suspects… surf Nazis, whose members all have rap sheets a mile long. He and Pappas stake them out. They’re planning a raid at dawn.
At Bodhi’s place, Johnny fits right in. During a beach campfire scene, Bodhi talks about the ultimate ride, which is Bells Beach Australia when the 50-year storm comes. He’ll be there. It seems like an innocuous detail from a bunch of drunk and stoned surfers, but it’s the lynchpin to set up the Finale.
Johnny then goes on a night mission with his new friends. He has the experience that changes his life. He and Tyler fall in love, and make love on the beach as A and B Stories cross.
Midpoint: Johnny’s late for his own bust. It’s a brutal shootout and most of the suspects died. Warchild isn’t, but he does “seriously back off” now after he’s arrested. The stakes raise when undercover DEA Agent Deets (Tom Sizemore) says they got the wrong guys. “I’ve been working on these fuckers for three months—three months! Now I finally got them to play Wheel of Fortune with me so I could find out who their supplier is. Then you fuckin’ cowboys show up!” This is a false defeat for Utah.
Bad Guys Close In: Bodhi invites Tyler and Utah on a dawn patrol surf adventure. That’s when Utah sees it—the guys he’s hanging out with are the group. They’re tight-knit thrill seekers. After following Bodhi all day, he reports to his partner. The group will rob another bank, the undercover agent is sure where and when. Pappas is hesitant—his young partner’s last hunch was wrong. He and Pappas stake out the bank. However, Pappas is distracted with reading the funny papers and wanting an early lunch of meatball sandwiches. “Utah, get me two.”
All Is Lost: After Utah blows his cover to his surfing compadres, he chases Bodhi, but messes up his knee. Instead of taking the kill shot, he lets Bodhi go. A whiff of death moment. Losing his suspect and his old football injuring plaguing him, Utah’s worse off than at the beginning of the movie.
Dark Night of the Soul: Tyler finds out who Johnny really is. She shoots at him with his federal-issued pistol, then leaves him. She’s hurt by his deception, especially their bonding over dead parents, which turned out to be Utah’s fabrication.
Bodhi’s squad figure out their next move. The team leader says this was never about the money, it was about showing wage slaves that the human spirit is alive and well. This is why none of the them turned up in the investigation. They’re not career criminals like the surf Nazis. They’re thrill seekers looking for the ultimate rush. Stealing banks provides that—and gives them a living.
“This was never about the money,” Bodhi tells his crew. “This was about us against the system. The system that kills the human spirit. We stand for something. We are here to show those guys that are inching their way on the freeways in their metal coffins that the human spirit is still alive. Don’t worry about this guy, okay? I know exactly what to do with him.”
Bodhi shows up at Utah’s house early. It’s tense because they know who Johnny really is now—and he’s onto them, too. They force him to go sky diving. But it’s all a ruse—a distraction to put their plan in action. After landing, Bodhi shows Utah an “insurance policy” video. Tyler’s now a hostage. She’ll be killed if Utah turns them in.
Now that they’ve been made, the Ex-Presidents need some road cash to make their escape. Except they have a hostage: Johnny Utah. And just like Patty Hearst, they make him rob a bank with them. Utah has no choice. He cares about Tyler.
The robbery goes bad. A security guard, an off-duty police officer, and one of the Ex-Presidents, LBJ (Grommet), are killed. Bodhi knocks Utah out and the 3 remaining rubber-faced heads of state escape. Utah’s in hot water with Harp, who has him arrested. Pappas convinces the captain that he’ll haul Utah in. Harp disrespects the Brando agent and gets knocked out.
Break into Three: Utah knows where Bodhi’s going; that’s why Pappas elected to “haul” him in. Utah’s making his choice to end this. The dynamic duo head to Santa Monica Airport. This will lead Utah to Tyler, which will cross A and B Stories.
1. Gathering the Team: Agents Utah and Pappas arrive at the airport. Sure enough, there’s a getaway private plane standing by. Complication: they can’t shoot the suspects, it will mean Tyler’s life.
2. Executing the Plan: Pappas leaves the car and goes on foot; Utah drives up to Bodhi and Nathanial prepping to leave, holding the pilot hostage. Utah begs his felonious friend to release Tyler, but he won’t do it; she’s his ace in the hole.
3. High Tower Surprise: Pappas moves in on them to make the arrest. Roach comes ambling out of the hangar. He and the agent have a shootout. Wounded, Pappas shoots and kills Nathanial. However, the wounded Roach kills Pappas.
4. Dig Down Deep: Bodhi takes Utah hostage. He loads the dying Roach in the getaway plane and they take off for Mexico. The agent tries to get the zen master to release Tyler, but he won’t. Bodhi throws Roach out with the cash and a parachute. Then Bodhi jumps. Utah doesn’t have a parachute, so he leaps out of the plane and freefalls—a moment of faith—and tussles with Bodhi, an airborne pax de deux. On the ground, Roach is dead. Bodhi gets away, but Johnny and Tyler are reunited, crossing A and B stories.
5. Executing the New Plan: Agent Utah shows up at Bells Beach in Australia. Sure enough, Bodhi is there, waiting for his massive wave to come in. This was set up in the Fun and Games, and now it’s being paid off. Johnny and Bodhi have a pax de deux part deux on the beach. Utah cuffs his friend. But Bodhi says he can’t handle a cage. He must be free. Utah lets him go out and ride his final wave. Bodhi does achieve “the ultimate ride” that Tyler mentioned at the Break into Two. Johnny watching, knowing that Bodhi will die. A mercy killing for a friend.
Final Image: The Opening Image and the Final Image bookend naturally in rainy weather. Utah now has long hair, a contrast to the clean cut kid. He looks older, wearier. He throws his badge into the Pacific—he’s done with law enforcement, “burning the establishment down.” He sacrificed everything to rescue Tyler and bring Bodhi to justice, and now he must save only himself.