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Movie Review

'Hands': Compelling Ride Into Surfers' Lives

April 24, 1998|KEVIN THOMAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

"In God's Hands" takes us into the heart of the surfer mystique, suggesting powerfully that, for those for whom surfing becomes a way of life, riding an enormous wave becomes a form of communion with nature.

It's the moment when "everything makes sense"--in the words of the reflective, reserved Shane (Patrick Shane Dorian), one of three world-class surfers we follow from Madagascar to Bali to Hawaii in their pursuit of stupendous waves.

The lure of those waves has been explored in countless pictures over the three decades since Bruce Brown's classic "Endless Summer," yet "In God's Hands" has impressive depth and poignancy, thanks to the fortuitous teaming of filmmaker Zalman King and Matt George, who both co-stars and co-wrote the script with King. A former top professional surfer who has been involved in every aspect of surfing and in many aspects of filmmaking, George, in the role of the aging Mickey, gives the film its strength and resonance.

King, himself an experienced swimmer and diver, is equally well-cast behind the camera: as one of the movies' resolute sensualists dedicated to revealing the extremes of sexual passion--e.g. "9 1/2 Weeks"--he has the right sensibility to delve into the extremes of sport.

"In God's Hands," photographed by John Aronson with plenty of jazzy panache, is a supremely gorgeous film--all those lush locales, thundering waves and perfect bodies--that unfolds accompanied by a rapturous, rousing score by Paradise.

King was lucky in that he was able to find three top surfers who can act. It would seem that King keyed the natural reticence of Dorian, currently the No. 2-ranked professional surfer in the world, to his portrayal of Shane, whereas third surfer, Matty Liu, a five-time Hawaiian champ, would seem to bring his own high spirits to his playing of the 17-year-old Keoni.

*

Trim, rugged, his head shaved bald, George's Mickey is a figure of good-natured virility whose sunny, reckless personality hides the self-knowledge that at 35 he's by his own admission burned out. He's deeply concerned that Shane will resist turning pro, as he did, until it's too late to cash in.

King takes the strands of travelogue and surfing documentary and gradually weaves them into a compelling drama that reaches its moment of truth on an outer reef in Hawaii, where turbulent 50-foot, 35 mph waves normally require that a surfer be towed into them by a watercraft traveling faster than 35 knots.

"In God's Hands" has some of the most spectacular surfing footage ever; more important, it has people we can care about.

* MPAA rating: PG-13, for brief, strong language. Times guidelines: The film may be too intense for the very young.

'In God's Hands'

Patrick Shane Dorian: Shane

Matt George: Mickey

Matty Liu: Keoni

Shaun Thomson: Wyatt

A TriStar Pictures presentation. Director Zalman King. Producer Tom Stern. Executive producers King, David Saunders and Alladin Pojhan. Screenplay by King & Matt George. Cinematographer John Aronson. Editors James Gavin Bedford & Joe Shugart. Costumes Jolie Anna Andreatta. Music Paradise. Production designers Maarc Greville-Masson and Paul Holt. Art director Jacqueline R. Masson. Set decorator P.J. Boston. Running time: 1 hour, 36 minutes.

* In general release throughout Southern California.

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