Film review: ‘BREATH’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

For those like Liz Lemon in 30 Rock who are wondering what happened to the Mentalist, Simon Baker, he’s now directing films. His debut feature is an adaptation of Tim Winton’s novel Breath.   This slow-burn teen rites-of-passage story, partial biopic and surfing film has some impressive moments but never quite jells as a coherent or compelling drama.

Samson Coulter, in this feature film debut, plays central character Pikelet, a teen living in coastal Western Australia in the late 70’s. Along with his reckless trouble-making mate Loonie (Ben Spence) he becomes involved in the local surfie culture which at that time still had hippie overtones. Guiding them through increasingly treacherous waves is scruffy combi van driving former pro-surfer, Sando (Simon Baker). Pikelet’s increasing involvement with Sando and his moody American girlfriend Eva (Elizabeth Debicki) comes at the expense of other relationships and often forces him to make painful life choices.

This low-key and very restrained film often has us wondering exactly where it’s going. With much of the film simply featuring Pikelet and Loonie larking about, it lacks tension, drama and conflict although it does take a very odd turn at one point. Baker hints at personal tragedy, disappointments and even family violence but these issues aren’t thoroughly investigated.

As a teen coming-of-age film it’s not particularly poignant as we’re kept at a distance from Pikelet. Despite the fact that an adult version of him (Tim Winton himself) narrates the film there’s little sense of his inner-life so his personal trials aren’t very moving. As Loonie, though, Ben Spence has the look and manner of a classic 1970’s teen troublemaker and almost adds a sense of danger to the film. Baker is tolerable as their surfie surrogate father but his quasi-spiritual waffle is a little painful. Like the other characters, his motives and underlying emotions aren’t explored deeply enough. More memorable is Elizabeth Debicki as the mysterious and slightly creepy Eva. Richard Roxborough also appears as Pikelet’s father and while the distance between them is part of the story it seems a waste to sideline one of Australia’s finest actors for much of the film. The same could also be said of Rachel Blake as Pikelet’s mother.

Breath probably works best as a surfing film with some striking and at times nail-biting footage from cinematographers Marden Dean and Rick Rifici showing the young guys testing their nerves against giant waves.

This is an agreeable debut for Baker as a director but if feels a little underdone.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Drama/ coming of age.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Simon Baker.

Release date: 3rd May 2018.

Running time: 115 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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