Most people unacquainted with pro surfer Bethany Hamilton (myself included) may only know about her dangerous run-in with a tiger shark, which resulted in her left arm being bitten off (a story adapted in 2011’s Soul Surfer, based on Hamilton’s autobiographical best-seller). I wholeheartedly recommend Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable to those movie goers. Not only does Aaron Lieber’s documentary fill us in on Hamilton’s career using stylistic flare, but the film does an exceptional job showcasing the strength of the athlete’s perseverance – a personal quality that overshadows her accident.
Following a recent template as seen in Free Solo and The Dawn Wall, Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable begins with a daunting challenge for the surfer before the film takes us back to early moments in her professional career. Through archival video and interviews with former friends and competitors, movie goers watch Hamilton’s favourite pastime develop her into an incredibly spry and gifted athlete. Her career isn’t on hold for long after the tiger shark incident, which was a career-defining chapter for Hamilton as she taught herself how to compensate accordingly and still be a fierce competitor.
This isn’t the first documentary Aaron Lieber has made about this sport, which may explain his confdience behind bold editorial choices – like skimming over Hamilton’s devoutness and souping-up the film with fast edits and action cinematography. While those choices may not be everybody’s cup of tea, the style turns this typical biopic into a full-fledged sports film that will have viewers awe-struck. But most importantly, Bethany Hamilton’s empowering spirit truly drives this movie; giving this documentary the power to also inspire audiences.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie