Kathryn Bigelow Had To Fight For Keanu Reeves To Star In Point Break

I'll be honest: I didn't fully understand "Point Break" at first. It was a movie that predated my interest in film — more importantly, I was not alive when it first came out — and so I believed the reviews that condemned its "machismo" or "shallow" sensibilities. I didn't think the story of an FBI agent falling in with a band of adrenaline junkies who also robbed banks would appeal to me (ironically, I have always been majorly obsessed with "Fast & Furious" movies).

One thing about "Point Break" that I completely underestimated — apart from, y'know... the homoeroticism of it all — was its subversion of the classic high octane action flick that reached its zenith in the '90s. "Point Break" is more than just dudes and explosions and guns: it's about dudes who aren't afraid to feel and to connect — in a textbook masculine way, sure. But the heart of the film, beneath its pulse-quickening action, aches with a rare kind of sincerity.

It's funny how the female gaze can breathe new life into such a cut-and-dry narrative. Kathryn Bigelow, who would continue to subvert the "guy film" with films like "The Hurt Locker" and "Strange Days," helped saved "Point Break" from the trappings of its genre. It was also Bigelow who turned Keanu Reeves into the action star we know him as today — but casting Reeves was something of an uphill battle, not unlike teaching Johnny Utah to ride a wave.

If you want the ultimate, cast Keanu Reeves

Before Bigelow and then-husband James Cameron signed on to direct and produce "Point Break," the film was in the hands of one Ridley Scott, with Matthew Broderick and Charlie Sheen projected to star. The idea certainly wasn't horrible, but it's a far cry from the revelation that would follow.

After Scott left the project, and Bigelow succeeded him years later, casting was on the table once more. Producers at 20th Century Fox considered everyone from Johnny Depp to Val Kilmer for the role of Johnny Utah. Even Patrick Swayze, who'd go on to play the uber-zen bank-robber-slash-surfer Bodhi, was up for the part at one point. Keanu Reeves, then known exclusively for the "Bill & Ted" series, was the last person on anyone's mind to play a short-fused FBI agent. Miraculously though, he was Bigelow's first and only choice for Utah. Cameron detailed the struggle to Premiere in 2002:

"We had this meeting where the Fox executives were going, 'Keanu Reeves in an action film? Based on what? 'Bill & Ted'?' They were being so insulting. But she insisted he could be an action star."

Though "Point Break" predated Reeves' biggest films, "Speed" and, of course, "The Matrix," Bigelow still saw real potential in the actor. She would become his "Olympic coach," Cameron recalled: "she worked on his wardrobe, she showed him how to walk, she made him work out." 

Reeves lacked the hard edges that so many action stars of the time (namely Cameron's own muse, Arnold Schwarzenegger) possessed in spades. He brought a sensitivity to Johnny Utah that blossoms the more time he spends with Bodhi and his merry band of bank robbers. It didn't hurt that he was (and still is) such a pleasure to look at. Reeves would win the very-prestigious MTV Movie Award for Most Desirable Male for "Point Break" — and, of course, go on to star in other unconventional action projects, like the ongoing "John Wick" franchise. All thanks to the female gaze: seeing potential in places that others overlook.