Simon Baker’s feature directing debut, adapted from Tim Winton’s 2008 novel, takes place in a small coastal town in southwestern WA in the 1970s, focusing on two 13-year-old boys who form a close attachment to a former professional surfer. Pikelet (Samson Coulter) and his more reckless mate Loonie (Ben Spence) are taken under the wing of Sando (Baker), whose ice queen American partner Eva (Elizabeth Debicki) is unimpressed. Sando inducts the grommets into the cult of surfing, and eggs them on to tackle more and more risky swells. But Sando’s wave obsession also sees him disappear for long stretches to South East Asia, leaving Eva home alone, which is where the plot belatedly kicks in and things take an erotic and slightly creepy turn.
There’s a lot to admire here. Baker finds an analogy for Winton’s poetic prose in the ocean’s undulations and the silent sanctuary of the undersea. He has captured some awe-inspiring surfing footage along with evocative landscapes (the film was shot around the southern WA town of Denmark). But the movie is blissed out on its own mojo. Points are made about the male need to test himself up against unforgiving nature, but for a two-hour movie the lack of either momentum or resolution is disappointing. Pikelet’s sensitive depths are hinted at (he reads Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville!) but he remains an opaque hero. Richard Roxburgh, as Pikelet’s dad, gets little more to do than fall asleep in his armchair – prompted, possibly, by the relentlessness of Harry Gregson-Williams' ethereal music. Viewers may well end up feeling like Queenie (Miranda Frangou), the hapless schoolmate who attempts to be the moody Pikelet’s girlfriend: unloved and ignored, in favour of pipe dreams.