Big Wednesday

Big Wednesday is a tale about three friends growing up together during the sixties. They are all surfers with a common love of the sea, partying and women but their lives take very different turns when the war breaks out in Vietnam. Written and directed by John Milius this is an epic film which features some fantastic surfing footage.

Surfing incredible waves

The three central characters are Jack (William Katt), Leroy (Gary Busey) and Matt (Jan Michael Vincent). Jack narrates the film and we open in 1962 with the three young surfers enthralled by Bear (Sam Melville) an old surfing legend who sells boards from a shop on the pier. Their life is carefree and consists of surfing and partying, each dreaming of the day that they will get the chance to face a really big swell.

The rude awakening comes in the form of the draft for Vietnam and the friends try desperately to avoid being sent. We drop in and out of their lives over the next few years until Big Wednesday in 1974 when the great swell finally arrives. In the intervening years Matt develops an alcohol problem, but comes good and settles with a wife, Jack is sent to Vietnam and returns home as a sergeant only to find that his girl has married another guy, Leroy is just a crazy party animal.

The story is gently told and hugely enjoyable, they grow and learn through the course of the film but their friendship never dies and neither does their desire to ride that one legendary swell before they settle down for good. Matt is the best surfer of the three and when he finally gets the chance to claim his place in surfing history we are treated to some spectacular surfing on impossibly huge curling waves.

The script is generally good, a little cliched perhaps but it succeeds in bringing the characters to life and definitely appeals to your sentimental side. The understated climax is beautifully done and throughout the film the relationships between the characters are very believable. I felt genuinely sad when the three parted at the end of the film, each acknowledging a coming of age, no longer having any reason to spend all their time together or to surf everyday.

Gary Busey, Jan Michael Vincent and William Katt in Big Wednesday

The acting is really good and the characters are fleshed out nicely. Gary Busey as the crazy, oil yourself up and scream, party animal was a little too convincing. Katt does a great job as Jack and Jan Michael Vincent is thoroughly convincing as champion surfer Matt. I thought Sam Melville was also very good as the eccentric Bear, providing a real sense of history and awe to the surfing world and romanticising the whole thing.

The direction is flawless and really makes this film worth watching. The surfing scenes are beautifully filmed, with several stunning tracking shots through the curves of great waves. The mood of the surfing community and the comfortable warmth of life on the beach are captured perfectly. John Milius had writing credits on Apocalypse Now and went on to direct Conan the Barbarian after Big Wednesday. His writing and direction here are very good and he probably deserves more credit than he got for this effort.

Big Wednesday is a nostalgic film, an epic surfing legend which spans 12 years and builds satisfyingly to an ending which sends shivers down your spine. It runs for just under two hours and is well worth spending the time on. A day will come that is like no other and nothing that happens after will ever be the same.

Reviewed by Simon Hill

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