“You’re about to jump out a perfectly good airplane, Johnny! How do you feel about that?” – Rich Hopkins (Surfer)
Contemporarily known as an icon of bombastic blockbuster action, thanks to roles in the Wachowski’s groundbreaking Matrix trilogy alongside the ongoing John Wick franchise, for Canadian actor Keanu Reeves this wasn’t always the case. Finding his way into the industry at the age of 19, the actor dabbled with several roles in TV through the early 1980s, before gaining a low-profile reputation for small comedy, drama roles. Despite having appeared in Stephen Frears’ Dangerous Liaisons in 1988, Reeves remained a minor actor before his role in the cult phenomenon Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure a year later.
Playing a charming, yet dimwitted teenager alongside actor Alex Winter, it was Reeves first role of true significance, though one that continued to pigeonhole him as an actor merely capable of comedy roles. Two years later and the film’s sequel, Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey, was set for release, though shortly before then, just days before the film’s release was the matter of a small action film from Kathryn Bigelow, Point Break.
Starring Keanu Reeves in the lead role as FBI Agent Johnny Utah, Bigelow’s film follows Utah in his undercover mission to catch a gang of surfers called the ‘Ex-Presidents’ who are linked to a high-profile bank robbery. Though these aren’t your usual, black-clad, cigar-smoking crooks, the Ex-Presidents are bohemian free-spirits and philosophical thinkers, dedicated to counterculture and the thrill of riding the point break.
Patrick Swayze stars as Bodhi, the leader of the Ex-Presidents, a muscular surfer with jagged features and beach blonde hair, a product of the ocean spray and the perfect antagonist for Bigelow’s film. With the same beatnik attitude as Bill and Ted, Bodhi depicts almost an older illustration of Alex Winter’s character, allowing Keanu Reeves to quite naturally react and forge chemistry with Swayze.
The American actor believed this too, stating that he and Reeves’ character shared “that wild-man edge”, with the latter observing that their quality performances were co-dependent on each other. “He had such a great support, being such an experienced action actor, and actor, he was really like, ‘Come on, Reeves. Let’s go!’” Reeves discussed at the Toronto film festival in 2017. Such collaboration and support from Swayze and Bigelow would help to form Reeves’ compelling performance in the film and set him up for great success in the future.
“I can’t do it by myself. It’s a collaboration, it’s a collaborative art form,” Reeves notes on working with the director and co-star. The state of the actor’s career in a contemporary landscape is somewhat of a synthesis of both of Point Break’s lead roles, taking Utah’s sincere sense of justice and Bodhi’s eccentric mindset, in essence crafting the titular character of 2014s John Wick.
Point Break would change the career of Keanu Reeves in more ways than one, catapulting him to Hollywood fame, particularly as the face of the modern hunky action star. 1994s Speed, alongside 1999s The Matrix would launch the actor even further, taking this signature bohemian attitude with him wherever he went. As Reeves comically flung himself out of a plane without a parachute during the film’s climax, he leapt into a career unknown, armed only with his good looks, a revolver, and a newfound maverick attitude.
“It really changed people’s lives, just like it did mine” – Keanu Reeves