Breathe – Review

Andrew Garfield as Robin Cavendish and Claire Foy as Diana Cavendish in Breathe – Courtesy of Bleeker Street Media.

Breathe follows the true story of a young man and his life dealing with his disability – in this he attempts to construct a wheel-chair for the masses.

Right off the bat, this type of story has been seen before in films such as The Theory of Everything (2015), now not to discredit any of the work put into this film, I just felt it was necessary to note that it will be difficult to not make resounding comparisons between these films, especially considering they both follow an extremely similar story arc and were released only a few years apart. This film is first and foremost a positive and uplifting journey of overcoming one’s hardships and “choosing life over death”; much of these themes are scattered throughout the course of the film in fragments and come together by the films conclusion in a nicely balanced way without being too complex .

Now complexity certainly wasn’t this films focus as it is certainly one of the more basic journeys that I have seen, I did crave a bit more conflict and struggle than this film offered. While this film certainly has its variety of tear jerking moments and a rare few chuckles here and there, there is also a plethora of moments that don’t quite hit the nail on the head and they result in some dragging, a line of dialogue that feels weak or unemotional, and even scenes that could have had more potential but failed to take it a step further. It becomes clear that director Andy Serkis has some refining to do in his journey as a director. While the film as a whole was certainly appreciable, it stands as almost a perfect case study of a new director not quite figuring out his style or flow.

From performances Andrew Garfield goes head first in taking this challenging role on – he was extremely limited in what he could muster in terms of facial expressions and emotions; however he executes almost all his scenes with heart and soul. This is not Garfield’s best role and his performances last year were arguably better in richness and complexity, the effort he put in shows throughout this film and his portrayal felt genuine and true to the real man. I must say, the standout performance from the film came from Claire Foy, who elicited far more emotion from me when she acted on screen – she has a soft heart and a strong passion for her husband to keep moving forward in his life and while Garfield did a great job, Claire Foy has my respect in this film and one could argue she even snatches the spotlight from Garfield himself.

Where this film truly shines is in its visuals; the rich and vintage production design is some of the best we have seen in the smaller films this year, taking us through the ages of the 50’s 60’s, and 70’s we get an accurate variety of changing styles and not in just one location but in multiple countries as well, from Africa, Spain, and Germany, we see multiple styles presented. In terms of editing, structurally there were some obvious problems, the transitions between scenes were jumpy at best and while the film attempted to offer as much exposition on time periods and locations through the use of titles. However, it still had trouble with making the story flow in the first and second act. There are a handful of shots in this film that are certainly beautiful but there were also shot choices that made me glare in confusion – this is another example of Serkis not quite getting the grasp on certain shots and how long to keep the camera pinned on a certain actor. Tom Hollander, who plays a set of twins is exposed to this particular issue on three different occasions throughout the film, the camera stays pinned on his facial reactions and does not elaborate as to why we are seeing him in the frame. 

One of less consistent visual aspects was the makeup for the lead character, the aging process done on Garfield didn’t look as good as I’ve seen in films made ten or even twenty years ago and while it got better towards the end, the consistency for the characters aging over the decades could have used work. It’s clear Serkis has some things to learn – however, this is a fantastic first attempt and he certainly has some talent on his side, once he gets more experienced he may be able refine his skills to produce something truly special.

Serkis could have done more, he could have added a psychological side to the story, been inside the head of the afflicted and shown the world from his perspective more than he did, I would have appreciated a sense of confinement and hopelessness toward the beginning of the film but Serkis was taking a safer approach and perhaps a more truthful interpretation of events. Alas, if you are interested in the hardships one goes through to make it through an impossibly difficult situation and triumph then go give this film a watch, if you have however seen The Theory of Everything (2015), then there’s not much new content this film can surprise you with.

Boasting strong performances from both lead character’s and a heartfelt journey of living life with a disability – Breathe works just well enough to satisfy a first directorial debut from Andy Serkis, though struggles to introduce fresh material that is needed to elevate it above what has already been seen in this form of storytelling.

6.7/10

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