TL;DR – This is a film exploring the beauty of the Australian coast, the trying to find your place in the world, and the damage manipulation can do.
Score – 3 out of 5 stars
Post-Credit Scene – There is no post-credit scene
When you are growing up there is always those moments that define your life, the first time you do something, the friends that you ride with, and the experiences you find yourself in. However, it is also a time of great fear, what sort of person will you be, what is your future outlook going to be, and how are you going to be remembered. It is an almost universal rite of passage, but it can also lead to devastating outcomes if it all falls apart. Today we look at one of these stories set as the 1970s come to an end in the quiet coast of Western Australia. It is also a film that spends most of its time out in the open deep ocean, so there is like one of my big fears up there on the screen.
So to set the scene, we open on two friends Pikelet (Samson Coulter) and Loonie (Ben Spence) who live near the sea on the west coast of Australia. While Pikelet has two loving parents in Mr (Richard Roxburgh) and Mrs Pike (Rachael Blake), Loonie has an abusive father that often leaves him with a black eye or worse. Loonie and Pikelet are great friends but Loonie is always trying to take that next risk, often putting his life in danger to get the next high. Well, one day they decide to skip the river and ride all the way down to the coast where they first see people surfing the waves. For the boys, it is like dancing on the sea and soon they have to join in. It is here where they meet Sando (Simon Baker) a surfer with a past and a drive to surf the best waves in the world. However, as we meet his wife Eva (Elizabeth Debicki) we learn there is more to his drive, and maybe his friendly outlook comes with strings.
There is a lot that needs to be unpacked with regards to the story, however, before we do that I want to take the time to take a look at the visual construction of Breath. First, and without reservation, I have to say that this is a beautiful film, at every point they make the most of the West Australian coastline to make this film look stunning. You have the rolling clouds matching to rolling waves, indeed, it feels like this film is nearly always wet in some way, whether it be from the ocean, or the rain above, or the morning dew that has not evaporated. There are some frames in this film that I would frame and hang on the wall and the film does not waste any of its locations.
As well as the setting and location work, I was also really impressed with the way they filmed all the surfing. Often in these types of films, it is all wide shots to hide stunt surfers, or in close filmed on some green screen/ visual effects rig, yes I am looking at you Bond. However, here we see the characters surfing the waves close up as the boards zoom by the camera. Now while there may indeed be some in-camera or out of camera effects added, it honestly felt like we had the characters surfing through in front of us as the camera sat in the waves capturing it all. It really added to the immersion and helped to reinforce the story. We also see that camera work in some interesting ways like when a character is talking but they are out of focus because what he is saying is not important, it is how the boys react to it so the camera draws your eye to what is important without being completely obvious.
With this, we have to take a moment to talk about the story, and to do that we need to talk about some of the things that happen in the second half of the film so there are clearly going to be some [SPOILERS] ahead for those who have not seen the film yet. There is a number of themes going on in the film, there is exploring your future, deciding who you are going to be, standing up for yourself, and also, more importantly, manipulation and the toxic nature of risk-taking. Our central character in this film is Pikelet, indeed the story is narrated to us by an older Pikelet (Tim Winton) looking back on his life. However, at every stage of the film, he is manipulated into doing things by the three people who influence his life. Loonie keeps pushing him to engage in more and riskier behaviour like causing trucks to almost crash. Sando is trying to capture something lost to him in the past, indeed there is a deep sadness underneath the friendly exterior. However, he is using the boys to capture that past and he pushes them into a situation in the open ocean that are very dangerous with remarks like “I thought I brought real surfers”. Indeed at one point, Sando takes off to Indonesia with Loonie because Loonie is more susceptible, or willing, to do what he wants.
Finally, and most seriously we have Eva who manipulates the still underage Pikelet into a sexual relationship. There are points where he is deeply disturbed by what is happening and Eva continues even though she said she would stop. This is a deeply confronting turn of events and the film uses a musical choice that makes light of the whole situation. All of this does lead to Pikelet finding the courage to be who he is, but the second half of the film really bungles that narrative arc.
In the end, do we recommend Breath? I’m honestly not sure, because it feels like a film of two parts. The visuals are spectacular, and if you grew up near the coast you’d get a real kick of nostalgia for those first days you went out to catch waves. However, as the story goes on and it becomes more damaging, I just don’t think I can recommend it. Also, they have an un-fired Chekhov’s shark, which is an odd sentence to say not that I am thinking about it.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Credits – All images were created by the cast, crew, and production companies of Breath
Directed by – Simon Baker
Screenplay by – Simon Baker, Gerard Lee & Tim Winton
Based on – Breath by Tim Winton
Music by – Harry Gregson-Williams
Cinematography by – Marden Dean & Rick Rifici
Edited by – Dany Cooper
Starring – Samson Coulter, Ben Spence, Simon Baker, Elizabeth Debicki, Richard Roxburgh, Rachael Blake, Tim Winton & Jed
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: na; Germany: na; New Zealand: na; United Kingdom: na; United States: na