Starring Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Diana Rigg
Andy Serkis has an interesting career and trajectory. He’s changed cinema with his motion capture expertise on The Lord of the Rings and The Planet of the Apes series. He is one of the most versatile filmmakers behind the scenes, even working as assistant director on The Hobbit trilogy. That experience has culminated in his directorial debut Breathe. It’s a curious choice for someone whose been associated with special effects films the majority of his career. While a beautiful looking film, we should expect nothing less from someone who has worked with the very best, it suffers a dramatic lack of depth. While Serkis no doubt consumed with Breathe’s technical and cinematic quality, someone forget to check the script. Essentially it leads the audience through an interesting man’s struggle to live without ever finding a narrative hook.
A brief courtship leads to the marriage of commoner Robin Cavendish (Garfield) and debutant Diana (Foy) before they move to Kenya in 1958. Before the birth of their son, Robin, a loving husband and active sportsman is diagnosed with Polio. He’s paralyzed from the neck down, requiring a ventilator to breathe and quickly loses the hope to live. Diana waits to have the baby and refuses her husband’s “let me die” request. They return to England in 1960 where he is bed ridden with no quality of life. Diana breaks her husband out of the hospital, with the ventilator and their friend Teddy Hall (Bonneville) invents a chair that greatly increases Robin’s quality of life. The Cavendish’s want to revolutionize the opportunity for other handicapped
It’s a disappointing case of a powerful human story that never finds a way to become a functional film.
The cinematography by Robert Richardson (Django Unchained, The Horse Whisperer) is really stunning in all beautiful locations the film travels. Garfield (Hacksaw Ridge) feels out of place and miscast in this performance that only requires his presence and facial expressions. What little narrative exists in the script falls to television actress Claire Foy (The Crown) whose mediocre at best. There isn’t a stand out performance, which is unfortunate since the only thing Breathe has to capture emotion is characters. The storytelling is soft and weak as Serkis just moves us through the linear history of this couple’s struggle for life. Once in a while the ventilator will get compromised, threatening Robin’s life, simply to add movie suspense to a stagnant story.
It almost starts to resemble The Theory of Everything with the husband chair ridden while the wife must devote her life to care. It doesn’t take long to understand that Breathe doesn’t really have a point beyond just putting the Cavendish story on the big screen. In all honestly, this story would work much better as a documentary. It becomes a story of a person struggling to live with Polio also exploring this romance and family dynamic. It’s a disappointing case of a powerful human story that never finds a way to become a functional film. I almost felt bad that I couldn’t get to an emotional place with this story, other people can and will, but for me the script is so weak the characters never feel complete or anything beyond just roles.
Andy Serkis directorial debut is unexceptional and plain.