There are moments that the movie lacks pace and the Hollywood gloss wipes out a lot of the gritty reality of Bethany’s struggle that would have done her real-life story more justice and made Soul Surfer a far more engrossing film to watch. In fact, the Hollywood factor is one of this film’s biggest drawbacks.
Having said that, Soul Surfer still has a lot to offer, particularly to younger viewers and they will probably enjoy it the most. The surfing sequences are entertaining, the Hawaiian settings are stunning, and the finale is exciting and feel-good. Add to that, all the positive messages and its off-the-charts wholesomeness, and this is a nice film for families to watch together.
It’s undeniably a good film for churches to use too. The real-life Bethany has always been open about her Christian faith and the role it played in her return to surfing. That was clear in the film as Bethany grappled with the question of how losing her arm could be part of God’s plan for her.
The film looks at how she comes to find the answer to that question and discover a whole new perspective, not only about her place in the world, but also about the place of surfing in her life.
Its treatment of the family's faith as a whole and how it helps them all come to terms with what has happened is also surprisingly sincere. Some critics have complained about this aspect of the film, supposedly for making it too preachy, but faith is a huge part of the Hamiltons' lives and the film accurately reflects this.
Undoubtedly, Soul Surfer could have been done better but as long as you are prepared for a truly heroic story that has been pressed through the Hollywood mangle and come out a little thinner on the other side, you’ll enjoy it.