Three years after his role of Patrick Jane on the smash hit CBS series, The Mentalist, came to an end, Australian actor Simon Baker returns to the screen, both in front of and behind the camera. Baker makes his directorial debut while also co-writing and starring in the adaptation of famed Australian writer Tim Winton’s coming of age story, Breath.
The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed by: Simon Baker
Written By: Gerard Lee, Simon Baker and Tim Winton
Starring: Simon Baker, Elizabeth Debicki, Samson Coulter, Ben Spence, Rachel Blake and Richard Roxburgh
Set in a small, West Australian coastal town in the mid 1970’s, Breath follows two daring, adventurous teenage boys, Pikelet (Coulter) and Loonie (Spence) who take up surfing to escape the mundanity of their lives. When the boys meet a mysterious older surfer named Sando (Baker), they develop an unlikely, yet strong friendship with him as he becomes the boy’s mentor and challenges them to take risks that will have a profound impact on their lives.
The film is adapted from Tim Winton’s best-selling, award-winning novel of the same name from 2008, which I have not read. Simon Baker has described the novel as almost ‘autobiographical to certain parts of his life’ because the story profoundly resonated with him. Baker is also quite the surfing enthusiast so the opportunity to make this film was the perfect marriage of two things he loves: filmmaking and surfing.
Breath is a Gorgeous Looking Film
The best aspect of Breath, by far, is the absolutely immaculate cinematography and the beautifully executed surfing scenes that really make the film worth watching on a big screen. The surfing scenes are shot in a way that feels so effortless and so natural, the film puts you out on the waves with the characters and it looks amazing. The best Australian films are the ones that show either the beauty or the horror of the Australian landscape and environment, and Breath does an excellent job at capturing the beauty of the west Australian coast.
As for out of the water, the film still has a great look to it. The cool color palette is very effective and makes the beach, ocean and the small coastal town all look dreadfully cold, while still managing to be visually interesting and aesthetically pleasing.
The Performances are Pretty Good (For the Most Part)
Instead of getting professional surfer doubles or teaching actors how to surf, Baker wanted skilled young surfers with little or no acting experience to play the roles of Pikelet and Loonie. And for two young men that have never acted before — Samson Coulter and Ben Spence — are very impressive in their roles. They are incredible surfers, of course, but they have great chemistry together and with Simon Baker’s character and in a strange way, their little acting experience actually helped to make their performances feel more authentic and made their characters feel like real people. I know this film is set over 20 years before I was born, but I felt as if Pikelet and Loonie were in my class at School.
Simon Baker is also great in this movie, proving himself as triple threat, starring in, directing and co-writing the film. Baker clearly has a great understanding of his character and plays Sando to perfection, coming across as a wise, yet tough surfing mentor with an air of mystery about him.
However, I felt that Elizabeth Debicki was not very good in this film. I understand that she is meant to be playing a depressed, injured and stoned former athlete, but she seems so disinterested and has no real chemistry with either Baker, Coulter or Spence, which is a problem, especially when her character becomes very important in the third act. Also, her American accent is a bit flat and not very convincing.
Breath Has So Many Missed and Wasted Opportunities
I understand that adapting anything into a feature film is a hard thing to do, especially when the source material comes from a book. You have to make the call on what aspects are absolutely necessary to the story to make sure the film isn’t too long and which aspects of the story won’t translate well to the screen. But with Breath, there are so many plot threads that could have been very compelling that are either not really explored at all or are introduced and go absolutely nowhere or come to nothing. I’m not sure if that is the fault of the source material or the adaptation, but they would have given the film a bit more depth.
Then there’s Pikelet’s girlfriend who is almost a character in this movie — I can’t actually remember if she was given a name. She has about six short scenes in this film that amount to around two minutes of screen time. I felt like either it should have been further developed or just cut from the film altogether. The same with Pikelet’s father (Roxburgh) whose son is starting to see him less and less because he is always with Sando. It’s an interesting layer that could have been added to the film, yet it is never explored.
There is also a massive plot turn towards the end of the second act that made Breath feel like a completely different film and it felt really out-of-place. It brings the film to a grinding halt and ultimately, in the grand scheme of the overall story, doesn’t really add anything and is almost completely inconsequential.
Breath is a mixed bag. On one hand, the film is incredibly well-shot, the surfing sequences are awe-inspiring and the performances from Baker and first timers, Coulter and Spence are very solid. However, on the other hand, the film has a number of potentially interesting plot threads that aren’t explored and a massive and unwelcome plot turn at the end of the second act.
I can’t say for sure because I have not read the novel, but it felt like Simon Baker was a bit too literal with the source material and certain aspects should have been further developed or omitted. Despite this, Breath is a very impressive directorial debut from him and I’m curious to see what he does next.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on Breath? Comment down below!
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