Director: Phillip Avalon
Stars: Ryan Kwanten, Simone Kessell, Jeremy Sims
First viewing, via DVD
Most of what I know about surfing I learned from watching Point Break. And given that surfing is maybe only the eleventh most interesting thing about that delightful film, it’s safe to assume I know very little about surfing. But director Phillip Avalon is well versed in the art and sport of surfing. Liquid Bridge is the former professional surfer turned filmmaker’s feature directing debut, though he’d accumulated a solid number of credits as producer, writer and actor over the years. Fittingly, Avalon’s first major project working in all three of those capacities was another surf-centric flick, 1977’s Summer City, co-starring Mel Gibson and John Jarratt.
In Liquid Bridge, protagonist Nick (Ryan Kwanten) works at his father’s garage and dreams of being a professional surfer like his dad (Tony Bonner), whose pro career was cut tragically short by an accident. He joins his recently widowed friend Dane (Jarrod Dean) on the pro circuit, but when Dane dies of an overdose and drugs are found among their possessions, Nick is wrongly accused of smuggling and put on trial.
In publicity for the film, Avalon emphasized the project’s roots in his own surfing experiences. In an extra on the film’s local DVD release, he explains that he wanted Liquid Bridge “to keep true to surf culture”. Elsewhere, in an interview with If Magazine, he elaborates that “it was something very close to my heart. I was a professional surfer. Surfing is part of my life. I understood the genre and the culture.” That authenticity shines through in the film’s surfing sequences. There’s some genuine electricity in these scenes: Avalon knows how to shoot waves as they roar, plummet, sweep, curl, rush and do their elemental thing. Nature is a spectacular special effect that rivals a million dollars of CGI, and Avalon knows how to capture it. Consequently, within the context of the story, it’s easy to see why Nick is seduced by and yearns for the surf.
Having said that, there’s a soap operatic quality to certain stretches of the film. In particular, some of the dramatic scenes play out like soap opera in terms of staging and composition, performance, and dialogue (the presence of Kwanten, then relatively fresh off his tenure on Home and Away, accentuates this). The film’s budgetary constraints also rear their head in these scenes, where the film switches from stunning vistas to more D.I.Y.-looking sets. However, the film has a few brushes with the ridiculous that work in its favour. For example, there’s a framing device showcasing the invention of surfing, a training montage culminating in a makeshift surfing simulation in prison, and the disposal of the antagonists at film’s end is endearingly broad. These moments add flavour and character to what could otherwise be a fairly rote Karate-Kid-meets-courtroom-drama-on-a-surfboard (which, now that I’ve put it into words, doesn’t sound remotely rote at all…).
Now’s as good a time as any to make a public confession: for six years I was a Home and Away addict and took great comfort in its sun-kissed emotional manipulation five nights a week. A number of the actors from the period I watched went on to international success, including Chris Hemsworth, Jason Clark, and Kwanten. I never pegged Hemsworth or Clark for the big time – thus I’d make a poor talent scout – but I figured Kwanten would go onto bigger things, as he later did in the HBO series True Blood (whilst continuing to star in smaller, interesting stuff locally like Red Hill and Mystery Road). He’s operating at a lower star wattage here, but is still good as the wrongfully accused, morally conflicted surf disciple. Meanwhile, Simone Kessell plays his French photographer girlfriend, and while the character is seemingly scientifically engineered to appeal to heterosexual males, she invests the role with purpose and weight.
In summary: Liquid Bridge is soapy and clichéd at times, but its surf scenes are impressive and it brushes against the ridiculous in exactly the right way.
Next week: Step aside Max Rockatansky, Australia finds a new action hero in Les Patterson Saves the World (1987).