Sunday, 12 November 2017

Review: Breathe

Cert: 12A / 117 mins / Dir. Andy Serkis / Trailer

Ah, the end of October brings us the return of GMT, Christmas adverts on the TV and of course the advent of Incredibly Worthy True-Story Cinema™. Although one suspects that since awards-judges have notoriously short memories, this particular offering will be long forgotten once the January crush arrives.

And so, to our subject: Andy Serkis' directorial debut tells the story of Robin Cavendish (played by Andrew Garfield), who contracted polio in 1958 and went on to confound the expectations of the medical establishment by not only surviving for 36 years, but also leading the way in raising awareness of disabilities and patient-care across the board. The story centres largely around Robin's home life with his wife Diana (Claire Foy) and son Jonathan ('various').

Yes, a bit like That Film*1.

And y'know what, it's fine. Absolutely fine. Part of me thinks that having Robin's son Jonathan onboard as a producer results in the story being too close to its subject, absolutely unwilling to take risks or portray any real primal angst, the kind that would come from being paralysed from the neck down in a society that has no idea how to treat you. But without that familial connection, the film probably wouldn't be as good. And that's the issue. Andrew Garfield is good and Claire Foy is good and the whole film is Good™. And if it wasn't good then the film wouldn't exist because things like this are so rarely bad. And it's this tendency to melodramatic autopilot which ends up undermining the whole thing.

I've read in various places that Breathe is primarily a romance or a even a gentle comedy, but rest assured, this is a period-set melodrama, and is everything you expect of that. The range of relentlessly stoical middle-classery on display evokes The Theory Of Everything in a head-on collision with a bus carrying all the Richard Curtis comeies*2. And that's fine. It's absolutely fine.

While Garfield and Foy perform their arses off from 1958 to 1994 with barely a touch of old-age prosthetics, the passage of time is denoted by several actors playing their son, with each incarnation as unable to meaningfully act as the last (so at least there's some character-continuity if nothing else), like a thespic retooling of The Portrait of Dorian Gray. Meanwhile, Nitin Sawhney's score thankfully doesn't need to tell the audience what to think, but only because cinematographer Robert Richardson's desaturation filter gets in there first...

Robin's story is undoubtedly worth telling*3, but I can't help but feel that this presentation is too chronologically and tonally close to other similar movies to work on its own terms - which is exactly what the film is supposed to be about. It's also awkward that the final stretch features a 'good times' montage, a device which suggests that the editing team doesn't trust the audience to remember things they watched less than two hours ago.

I have to say that while Breathe didn't annoy me, I wasn't particularly moved by it, not least because of how much Andy Serkis was telling me I should be moved…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Similar Things.

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
This is a Sunday afternoon DVD.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Probably, but it doesn't even try to surpass that mark.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
They all certainly hope so.

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Supreme Leader Snoke has directed this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Am I alone in envisioning a phone call from Mr Garfield to his agent which went something along the lines of "Hi Terry, it's Andy. Yeah, not bad thanks. Well listen, since Marvel are rebooting Spider-Man again and my services are apparently not needed (the bastards), I've been thinking; I watched that film the other week where Eddy Reddie smiles lopsidedly in a wheelchair for two hours and then gets almost buried alive in awards and plaudits. Any chance you could find me one of those gigs? Oh, I don't mind mate - the more disabled the better, that's how this works, right?" [ BACK ]

*2 Seriously though, I spent the second-act of the film wondering if I could fashion a screenplay in which Robin Cavendish and Stephen Hawking are in hospital beds next to each other all day, but they've figured out a way to share profanity-fuelled, action-packed dream-adventures when they sleep, and at night the film switches into a cross between Inception and Deadpool. I think that'd be awesome, although the marketing could be a challenge. [ BACK ]

*3 Also, Breathe stars Hugh Bonneville as an enthusiastic inventor-type, fashioning together the first wheelchair/respirator combination-set that Robin uses to venture into the outside world. Which isn't completely unlike Tony Stark creating Spider-Man's techno-suit. And since Andrew Garfield is of course himself a Spider-Man, this got me thinking: perhaps Breathe could be a sequel/prequel, where Sony's last standalone web-slinger gets zapped back in time to 1958 where he's deliberately exposed to the polio virus and becomes paralysed (an ignominious fate for the wall-crawler), unable to convincingly tell anyone of what's happened to him. Parker then manages to enlist Teddy The Inventor to work on various gadgets, but they never progress beyond the technical capabilities of the day. Eventually, Parker dies in 1994 - around the same time as the Tom Holland Parker is being born in New York, thus the films are bridged and the circle is complete. I may have thought about this too much, admittedly. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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