Big Wednesday Review

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Three friends - drawn together by their love of surfing - find their lives and friendships overturned by the Vietnam draft.


In the early '70s, Milius began his loose adaptation of Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness for Francis Ford Coppola, inserting the indelible character of surf-mad Colonel Kilgore into the dark heart of Vietnam. The crazy notion that surfing could interrupt Vietnam launches perhaps the most famous action sequence in modern cinema.

However, by the time Coppola finally decided to make Apocalypse Now, Milius was already filming his more autobiographical tale, in which Vietnam rudely suspends the endless summer of surfing.

One of the funniest scenes in Big Wednesday features surfers going to extreme lengths to dodge the draft, but the solid and dependable Jack decides to do his duty and the Point surfers inevitably begin to drift apart. Vietnam will later extract its bitter tithe from the group of friends.

Big Wednesday does not pretend to the Wagnerian heights of Coppola's opus but, played in a minor key, this small surfing movie displays comparative ambition. A running time of less than two hours takes in a dozen years, a half-dozen story strands, and still finds time for the odd side-swipe at hippy counterculture or crass commercialism. It is no surprise to find Big Wednesday started life as an unfinished Great American Novel.

The spine of the episodic narrative is the series of great swells, culminating in the titular Big Wednesday. ("The biggest days always take place on a Wednesday," Milius says of the title.)

If Paul Schrader was the nihilist of the movie brats, then Milius was his Nietzschean twin. The notion of will and superheroic feats (Nietzschean concerns) is the proper context for the desire of the surfers to seek out the great swell of Big Wednesday.

A key film from the movie brats-era, and quite possibly Milius best.