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Why We're Thankful for Keanu Reeves in Point Break This Thanksgiving

This holiday season, give yourself a Reevesgiving.

By Matthew Jackson
Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) watches Bodhi (Patrick Swayze) hold a surfboard in Point Break (1991).

There's an undeniable warmth to Keanu Reeves, whether we're talking about the more boyish charms of his early career or the gentle action star persona that's made him a fan-favorite in the public imagination. He's one of those guys that's just winning, from his voice to his eyes to the way he carries himself on and off camera. That means that, if you're looking for a kind of nontraditional Thanksgiving watch, treating yourself to a Keanu Reeves marathon feels like the right fit. Like Tom Hanks before him, he's just one of those guys who's become an American sweetheart.

But which Reeves movies do you watch? There are, of course, plenty to choose from, and there's no real right answer when it comes to narrowing down your favorites. For my money, though, one of the absolute best Keanu Reeves performances, one I'm more thankful for each and every time I watch it, comes in Kathryn Bigelow's 1991 action classic Point Break. And, since the film is streaming on Peacock right now, your Reevesgiving viewing is just a click away. 

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I know, I know, this film has nothing to do with Thanksgiving per se, but let's ignore that and instead focus on Johnny Utah, Reeves' wonderfully named character in the film. A former college football star who blew out his knee and ended up working for the FBI, Johnny's a man of endless energy and potential, ready to throw himself into the Bureau's Los Angeles bank robbery unit with everything he's got, much to the chagrin of his grizzled old partner Angelo (Gary Busey). Fortunately for Johnny, Angelo's got just the job for him. The hottest bank robbery gang in town, the Ex-Presidents, just might be a group of local surfers chasing the ultimate adrenaline rush, which means Johnny gets to go undercover as a surfer.

Now, it's here that the movie seems to veer away from Keanu just a little bit. During his surfing adventures, Johnny meets the beautiful Tyler (Lori Petty) and the charming Bodhi (Patrick Swayze), who will eventually be revealed as the leader of the Ex-Presidents, but when Johnny meets him he just presents as a kind of adrenaline guru, a guy who lives life in pursuit of finding the ultimate ride. Both of the people create strong new bonds in Johnny's life, even as things get more dangerous and evidence starts pointing toward a hard truth that he doesn't want to face. And in the end, he'll get the ultimate ride, whether he likes it or not.

Like I said, Point Break seems to veer away from Reeves when Petty and Swayze show up, because they're both extremely capable scene stealers. Swayze in particular emerges as a dominant, unbelievably compelling force in the film, all charm and good looks and the kind of intensity that helps Bigelow keep pouring the tension onto the story. It would be easy for Reeves to get lost in the shuffle, but he doesn't. He finds a way to contend with both of these powerful performances, and even manages to go toe-to-toe with Busey's chaotic energy. 

Johnny Utah (Keanu Reeves) holds a gun close to his body in Point Break (1991).

It helps that the story allows Reeves to play a character who is, himself, playing different characters. The Johnny Utah who works for the FBI is not the same as the Johnny Utah who's surfing every day, learning to love the ocean and the thrillseeking it provides him. The Johnny Utah with Bodhi is not the same as the Johnny Utah with Tyler, or with Angelo. He's changing masks constantly, sometimes literally adopting a new look through the addition of his surfer's tan and sunglasses. 

That's part and parcel with any undercover cop story, which Point Break definitely is, but what makes it special is the emotional through-line that Reeves manages to inject into Johnny's arc. He's not just a guy trying to get his man, and he's also not just a guy who finds out that he might love surfing more than he loves being an FBI agent. He's a guy who's searching for something, just like Bodhi is searching for something, and he's at once thrilled and frightened by the idea that he isn't quite sure which side he wants to come down on. It's a remarkably deft expression of a guy who's caught between worlds and feels the pull of them both, and Reeves manages to pull that off within the context of Bigelow's over-the-top action spectacle. That means Point Break proves just how well-suited Keanu always was for bombastic action films, while also never losing sight of that famous, perpetual warmth radiating out from his personality. It's as comforting as apple pie, which makes it the perfect film to kick back with over the holidays.

Point Break is now streaming on Peacock.