It doesn’t take much for actor Simon Baker’s directorial debut to sweep you off your feet. His vintage surf drama overwhelms the senses with sight and sound. Based on the novel of the same name, “Breath” is a coming of age story which uses the rugged Western Australian coast as a setting for bravery and maturity. “Breath” isn’t without it’s cinematic and narrative drawbacks, however. But narration does tell us in a compelling way how the main character felt the first time he understood the concept of surfing or how it felt “that first ride out.” Marden Dean’s cinematography on land and Rick Rifici’s at sea, give the viewer everything we need to understand how the characters felt. Few films are as transportive as “Breath,” which may become the film’s enduring legacy.

Few films are as transportive as “Breath,” which may become the film’s enduring legacy.

What works best about “Breath” is the first hour. Watching the teenage boys discover the surfing way of life and the instantaneous hunger to tame the waves they know nothing about is the part that resonates most in this film. Newcomers Coulter and Spence, obviously real life surfers with coached acting talent, deliver accessible performances with the help of Baker’s direction. The Tasmanian born actor has delivered a quite impressive first feature that’s almost as poetic as it is cinematic. Baker has assembled a great filmmaking team, including composer Harry Gregson-Williams (“The Zookeeper’s Wife”), that ensnares the audience into this otherwise pale and washed out story.

What doesn’t work so well here is the editing. The first hour is solely about surfing, which might be boring to those uninterested in that subject matter. There are no villains, no big obstacles to overcome or any real drama. “Breath” then shifts focus to an unsettling sexual affair between one of the 13-year-olds and a 30-something woman. The surfing rapidly fades from the story, as do the best friend and the mentor, things are quickly resolved, and the narrator brings the film to a close swiftly. “Breath” certainly stays with you after the credits, but sadly for the wrong reasons. What starts out so strong and full of nostalgia loses its way as it diverts from what was working so well.

Final Thought

A transportive 1970’s Western Australia coming of age surf film that marks an impressive directorial debut for actor Simon Baker.


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