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"Soul Surfer": A Movie Review

Updated on May 18, 2019
Suzie ONeill profile image

Movies, popcorn, and a comfy couch-- does it get better than this?

Day #12 of my "30 Hubs in 30 Days" Challenge

Today I thought I'd try something new. I've never written a movie review before; however, I recently watched a film that was well worth discussing. It was called "Soul Surfer" and it was based upon the life of professional surfer Bethany Hamilton.

Movie Poster
Movie Poster | Source

Back Story

Thirteen year old, Bethany Hamilton became a media sensation after she lost her arm in a shark attack in 2003. Many of you probably remember hearing the story in the news. She received even more media attention when she chose to continue competing in surfing competitions after her accident.

Bethany has since become a role model for people around the world due to her determination to not only re-learn how to surf with only one arm but also for achieving the status of a professional surfer and competing in surfing competitions with her handicap. She inspires people to work past their handicaps and overcome the hardships in their lives by pursuing the things that make them happy.

"Soul Surfer"

Synopsis: "A teenage surfer girl summons the courage to go back into the ocean after losing an arm in a shark attack." (

Director/ Producer/ Screenwriter: Sean McNamara

Studios: Film District, Mandalay Vision, Brookwell McNamara Etertainment, Tri-Star, and Life's a Beach Entertainment

Genre: Biography, Family, Drama

Rating: PG (for "an intense accident sequence and some thematic material")

The Cast

The movie boasts a pretty impressive cast including AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, and Kevin Sorbo. It also features the film debut of American Idol winner, Carrie Underwood.

Bethany Hamilton is portrayed by AnnaSophia Robb (Bridge to Terabithia, Race to Witch Mountain ). She does an excellent job portraying Bethany through all of her ups and downs. She comes across as warm hearted, approachable, and vulnerable. The audience can't help but root for her as she struggles to come to grips with the loss of her arm, learns to adapt to her handicap, and then returns to surfing with heartfelt determination.

Bethany's parents, Cheri and Tom Hamilton, are played by Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid. They both put in excellent performances as her supportive but laid-back parents. One of the best scenes in the movie is an informal surfing competition between the parents while their three children sit on the beach and act as judges. As Tom Hamilton, Dennis Quaid coaches Bethany and is the forever optimist. He's the "fixer" of the family. When Bethany has a set-back, he's the one standing there telling her to take a deep breath and try again. Helen Hunt, as Cheri, is also supportive, but she's also cautious. While driving home from the hospital, Bethany asks when she can return to the water. Her mother replies "Why don't we try a shower first?" She's the one saying slow down and take it one step at a time.

Kevin Sorbo (Hercules: The Legendary Journeys ) plays Holt Blanchard, the father of Bethany's best friend, fellow surfer Alana Blanchard. Although it's a small role, Kevin Sorbo puts in a great performance. Once again, he plays a hero. Holt Blanchard was the adult out surfing with the kids the day that Bethany was bit by the shark. He was instrumental in saving her life by applying a tourniquet to her wound before she was rushed to the hospital.

Carrie Underwood, plays Bethany's church youth leader, Sarah Hill. She's compassionate and supportive of Bethany and helps her make sense of what happened to her. The role also gives her an excuse to sing in her first scene in the film.


There's a point early in the movie where Bethany is at a youth activity at her church. The youth leader has the kids look at close-up photographs of items and try to identify them. The message is simple: sometimes we're too close to the problem to see it clearly. At times like this we need to step back in order to gain a little perspective.

At a moment in the film where Bethany's spirits and confidence were at their lowest and she was all-but-ready to give up on surfing, she traveled to Thailand with her church group to offer aid after a devastating tsunami. Bethany was seriously struggling with what happened to her, but visiting the tsunami survivors helped put her problems in perspective. Yes, she lost an arm and it had a big impact on her life. But, the people she met had lost even more. Some of them lost family members, their homes, and all of their possessions.

Sometimes it takes a little perspective to really appreciate what you've got.

While in Thailand, Bethany met a little boy. He lost his entire family during the tsunami. He was so traumatized that he wouldn't even speak. Bethany took the time to befriend him and helped him overcome his fear of the water while teaching him how to surf. It was one of the most touching moments in the film.

Fan Mail

After returning home, Bethany discovered that she had received a lot of fan mail while she was away. The part that puzzled her was that she lost her last competition. The thing was, to her fans, it didn't matter. They loved her simply for trying. She was a source of inspiration for people around the world including children that had lost limbs due to injuries or illness. It wasn't about winning; it was all about simply overcoming your fears and trying.

#12 down...
#12 down... | Source

Adult Role Models

One of my favorite things about this film was the fact the adults in Bethany's life never lied to her or fed her a line of bull. Even when she asked them some really tough questions. For instance, when she sobbed to her youth leader "why did this happen to me?" Sarah Hill, played by Carrie Underwood, took a deep breath and told her honestly, "I don't know why bad things happen to us."

I thought it was great that Bethany had so many supportive adults in her life. However, for me, they were even more admirable for being honest with her. I wish that more children had adults like this in their lives.

Define Beauty

At one point in the movie Bethany is struggling with her body image. After all, she was thirteen when she lost her arm which is a tough age for any young girl-- let alone one with a physical disfigurement.

There's a scene where she's laying on her bed holding a Barbie doll. After gazing at it for a while, she breaks off one of it's arms. Her mother, who was watching from the open doorway, tries to comfort her. But, initially, she has trouble finding the right words. She tries telling her that she's still beautiful and that some day the right guy will come along and love her for who she is, but Bethany isn't convinced.

That's when her mother got an idea. She walked across the room to a computer and did a quick search before pulling up a photograph of a statue of a woman with no arms, "Venus de Milo." Her mother explained that "for centuries she was considered the pinnacle of beauty... and she's got one less arm than you."

Bethany looked at the photo for a moment before smiling and replying, "Yeah, but I can surf."

Beauty isn't everything.


"Soul Surfer" is a movie with heart. It's well written, the acting is exceptional, and the true-life story that it's based upon is both touching and inspiring.

Personally, I could've done without the religious themes in the movie. However, I was relieved to discover that although the Hamilton family is a spiritual one, religion isn't the main focus of the movie. Instead, Bethany Hamilton's faith is one of the things that helped her overcome the challenges in her life. Her faith helped her heal (both physically and emotionally), but it's not the main focus of the story.

For those of you that are concerned about letting your children watch the scene with the shark attack, don't be. The accident scene is tastefully done. It is dramatic and a little bit scary, but it's not more traumatic than necessary. In fact, the attack was so sudden that I didn't even see the shark the first time I watched the scene.

The movie is one that you can share with your family and use to help teach your children some tough life lessons: put your problems in perspective; it's not about winning, it's about trying; beauty is in the eye of the beholder; and with the right attitude you can overcome any challenge.

"I don't need easy. I just need possible."

~~ AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany Hamilton in "Soul Surfer"

Movie Trailer


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    • Suzie ONeill profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzie ONeill 

      7 years ago from Lost in La La Land

      Weird-- your comment just showed up for me to approve but the date stamp says you left it 2 months ago. It's got to be some sort of software goof!

      Thanks for your comments. I really enjoyed the movie which surprised me because I'm not a religious person. A friend of mine saw the movie first and warned me that there were a lot of religious references-- which there were-- but, fortunately, they weren't too overwhelming. I was also really inspired by Bethany. She went through a horrible ordeal, but she learned to accept it and go on with her life. I also love how she became an inspiration for disabled people-- kids in particular-- around the world. She's proof that we can all overcome the challenges in our lives. :)

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      7 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      I liked this movie, though I did find Carrie Underwood to be a less then inspiring actress. It's a feel good story that avoids trite cliches. Nice review.

    • Deborah Brooks profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 

      7 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      wow what a wonderful movie and you described it so well.. you did a grat job.. she should be everyones hero.. I was so amazed at her story.

      Blessings to you


    • Suzie ONeill profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzie ONeill 

      7 years ago from Lost in La La Land

      Stessily-- you're talking to a Typo Queen. (chuckle) I'm notorious for typing the wrong word-- especially when I'm really tired. Actually, I do it when I'm speaking too. Oh well, we're only human, right? Besides, I knew what you meant! :)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Suzie, Excuse my typo of referring to Bethany as Brittany. I'm using a temperamental computer which sometimes pretends to save my latest draft but instead has a penchant for including typos! Yikes.

      I also thought it was interesting that Bethany is tall. In fact, some of the best surfers are very tall --- Peter Mel, Laird Hamilton. But then the inventors of surfing, the Polynesians, also can be quite tall.

      Your review is well done. You can't include everything. You made excellent choices in writing this review.

    • Suzie ONeill profile imageAUTHOR

      Suzie ONeill 

      7 years ago from Lost in La La Land

      Thank you for your kind words. :)

      Yes, I enjoyed watching the extra features on the DVD as well; but, I was worried that my movie review would be too long if I talked about that information as well. I thought it was interesting that the real Bethany is much, much taller than AnnaSophia Robb. But, with a little movie magic, Bethany was still able to do the surfing stunts for the film.

      They also mentioned a book about Bethany in the extra features. I'm going to have to see if my local library has it!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Suzie ONeill, You've presented a great review here! I remember when this shark attack occurred, and I've seen the movie. I appreciated that the film is not maudlin; it's inspiring because it has such a real feel to it. And I agree about the honesty which Brittany receives from adults as refreshing and compelling.

      I loved the fact that all the surfing scenes of Brittany after the loss of her arm were performed by the real Brittany --- amazing!

      Well done.


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