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The Advocate

Soul Surfer

Reviewed by C.J. Darlington

"...an incredible and inspiring story..."

It takes a courageous soul to fight back when tragedy strikes, and Bethany Hamilton is a true fighter. At the age of thirteen, on the cusp of great things as an aspiring pro surfer, she lost her left arm in a tragic shark attack. Many of us would’ve given up on our dreams then and there. Bethany didn’t. Grounded in her faith and family, her story made the international news in 2003. She even wrote a book about her experience, aptly titled Soul Surfer.

Now eight years later the movie of the same name is out and telling even more of her story, including some of Bethany’s struggles and doubts after the accident. Starring AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany, Soul Surfer the movie isn’t just another beating-the-odds sports flick. It’s an incredible and inspiring story of a young girl who triumphed over adversity. Knowing these events really happened makes everything mean more.

With a terrific cast giving spot on performances, Soul Surfer exceeded my expecations. Dennis Quaid as Bethany’s father shows the depth of his acting skills, believably playing a fun-loving guy one minute, a devestated father ready to fall apart the next. The same is true for Helen Hunt as Bethany’s mom, Cheri. In several scenes her deep, motherly emotions were palpable, and yet she hadn’t said a word. AnnaSophia Robb gives one of her best performances in this role, every bit as heartfelt as you’d hope. A case could be made that supporting cast member Carrie Underwood as Sarah Hill, Bethany’s youth leader, was possibly the weakest link in the acting department. She had the tendency to overact a little in her scenes, but you couldn’t help liking her anyway as her character came across genuine and caring.

It’s fascinating how the filmmakers were able to make it appear as if Robb herself was actually missing an arm. She had to wear a green sleeve during the shooting, holding her arm behind her back, but it’s almost eery how realistic it appears. Filmed on location in Hawaii, Hamilton herself was Robb’s stunt double for the difficult surfing scenes.

There’s so much to take away from this story, but what’s most refreshing is how the filmmakers didn’t water down the Hamiltons' faith. Which isn’t to say it’s a preachy story; not at all. The message of relying on God and His strength flowed as naturally through the movie as the Hawaiian waves. The love the Hamilton family has for each other is touching. Soul Surfer would be a fantastic movie to watch with your youth group, but all ages will find something to enjoy. This is one you’ll want to watch more than once.

Editor's Note: Be sure to read our interview with the real-life Sarah Hill here.

MPAA Rating: PG – the shark attack scene could be disturbing for young children.


C.J. DarlingtonC.J. Darlington is the award-winning authof of Thicker than Blood, Bound by Guilt, and Ties that Bind. She is a regular contributor to Family Fiction Digital Magazine and NovelCrossing.com. A homeschool graduate, she makes her home in Pennsylvania with her family and their menagerie of dogs, a cat, and a paint horse named Sky. Visit her online at her author website. You can also look her up at Twitter and Facebook.