Review: Breathe

3 years ago
Aidan Johnson

Breathe is a dramatic biopic starring Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy. The film is also the directorial debut of Andy Serkis (yes, the motion capture guy whose previous roles include Gollum, Caesar the Ape and the giant Sith dude in the Star Wars sequel trilogy).

The narrative portrays the apparently true love story of Robin (Garfield) and his wife Diana (Foy) as he is diagnosed and learns to live with paralysis following polio. The film’s caption reads “with her love he lived” which, whilst cheesy as all get out, is supremely problematic and doesn’t translate within the story whatsoever. It’s clear that the film received a greenlight riding the coat-tails of the critical and financial successes of 2014’s Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything. More on that note to come.

The majority of the film’s virtues lie within costume and production design and well as the locality of the film which takes us to Kenya and Spain. The script is just fine, but relies too heavily on the performances of the film’s leads. Garfield and Foy seem to give their performances as much as they can give, with Garfield working especially effectively in filling the thoroughly underwritten role. Claire Foy, however hard she seems to work in this role, is not afforded the room to make any lasting impression within this film.

I am really troubled by the characterisation and treatment of Diana within this film. I am quite certain that she is the only female character other than a few filler roles and Diana’s mother (who inexplicably disappears a third of the way through the film).

Whilst there is absolutely no character development leading up the couple’s introduction, Serkis relies too heavily on the work of his leads to somehow perform their characters’ development which is achieved by Garfield, but not Foy. I was entirely unaware of Foy’s character’s name until halfway through the film- and I’m quite an observant audience member. I still don’t know who she was or who she became through such turmoil and struggle.

I would bring in the comparison of The Theory of Everything, which took the perspective of Jane Hawking as the events unfolded. I think Serkis was far too concerned with portraying Diana as this ‘strong, wilful, beautiful’ wife that she came across as entirely unconvincing and devoid of identity. Jane was represented with a degree of unlikeability, truly demonstrating the burden of caring for the man she loved. Diana, however, is so inaccessibly perfect that we never see her pain, her anger. I actually think that Serkis edited out Diana’s outbursts, as I kept anticipating a sort of Oscars ‘ugly cry’ scene from Foy. But she was never afforded any such moment.

Thematically, Breathe is confusing. Going into the film, I expected a degree of British-isms as well as a somewhat stirring love story. But sadly, Serkis is unable to set a balance between quaint scenes of tea parties and inspiring speeches with others which include horrific images. At first we’re chuckling because the dog did something cheeky and then Robin’s bleeding from his trachea or being accidentally suffocated by his toddler. I should also mention that these horrific scenes were always sandwiched with moments of humour.

The editor of Breathe deserves a slap on the hand. Watching this film felt like watching three different films which were haphazardly stuck together with clag glue. There are also almost satirical flashbacks which are inserted with actual flashes of white to tell you that it’s a flashback in case you’d never seen a movie before.

One of the most upsetting elements of Breathe was fact that Robin and Diana never bloody age. The narrative spans from the 1950s to the 80s, with old age makeup only being implemented in the last section of the film. The makeup itself is abhorrent – Foy doesn’t get any prosthetics as it seemed an important choice to ‘keep her pretty’. Garfield, on the other hand, looks like a goddamn Thunderbird puppet in his old age makeup.

Andy Serkis has made some really messed up decisions here. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that whenever something ‘disturbing’ is going on he uses a bunch of Dutch angles rather than utilising more subtle avenues to create suspense. Next, he’s directed a remake of The Jungle Book that has nothing to do with Disney. This film should be held as evidence that Serkis should stick to playing a chimp. That’s a better, more effective way of eliciting emotion from an audience.

Breathe comes out in Australia on Boxing Day.

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