Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Boxed-in, and brilliantly, Stephen Dorff shines in Gabe Torres' riveting BRAKE

You can Drive all you want and get nowhere fast (and glossily). For my money, it's BRAKE that's the "car" movie you must see -- even if it takes place in the trunk rather than behind the wheel. It is also light years better than last year's tiresome, if efficient, Buried, in which, like this film, a fellow with ties to the U.S. government is kidnapped by terrorists and kept in a very tight place for the length of the movie.

Tight-place movies (or "contained-thrillers," as this budding mini-genre now seems to be called) are usually difficult, both to make and to sit through, because they allow so little in the way of variety -- certainly of place, but also of movement and even energy. In Buried, Ryan Reynolds was mostly frightened: realistically and genuinely but finally boringly. With Brake, director Gabe Torres and writer Timothy Mannion have concocted a film in which, though their star -- the very gifted Stephen Dorff, here giving an award-worthy, humdinger of a performance -- is drugged then stuck inside the trunk of a car, there is still so much going on, plot-wise and character-wise, not to mention lighting and sound (this allows for more variety than usual without sacrificing the necessary sense of reality and danger), that there is not a boring moment in the whole movie. In fact, against all odds for this weird little mini-genre, Brake just keeps getting better and better.

This is Mr. Manion's first produced script, and it's a gem. (You can find out more about it at this online interview with the screen-writer, but I beg you to watch the movie first.) It will take me a second viewing to find faults, omissions or mistakes here. On first viewing, things simply moved too fast to catch my breath, for the author has provided so much more than the usual fodder for this genre -- other characters as voices, objects within the trunk of the car that are of more than passing interest, and situational possibi-lities (is this some kind of exercise?) that could change everything.

From the director's standpoint, Mr. Torres keeps his camera (his excellent cinematographer is James Mathers, and the first-class editing is from Sam Restivo) close and at the ready but also pliant and versatile enough to handle everything that happens, while keeping us glued to the screen. An intelligent, strict-but-fluid POV is vital to movies such as Brake, and Torres and his crew are on top of this with terrific attention and skill.

And then there is Mr. Dorff. Yes, we know this guy (shown above and below) is gorgeous, sexy and a good actor. But he's never had a challenge such as this one -- and he rises to the occasion like nobody else I've seen. I suspect Dorff is pretty intelligent; god knows his character, a secret service agent named Jeremy Reins, certainly is. He's strong, disciplined and very smart, so it's a pleasure to accompany him on this strange journey. Dorff's face is front and center throughout most of the movie, and how he communicates the variety of his character's thoughts and feelings is little short of brilliant. This is an award-winning performance of incredible strength, intelligence and discipline. If only enough people will view it -- a problem for small independent movies shown first on VOD -- he should be a shoo-in for next year's awards.

The movie's ending -- both expected and then not -- is probably going to be it's most problematic portion. However you react to it, I think, is less important than how you react to the rest of the film, which is -- for one of the most difficult of all genres, the "confined space" movie done on a small budget -- simply spectacular.
Don't miss it.

Brake, from IFC Films and only 92 minutes long, has been playing via VOD for the past month and will open theatrically on Friday, March 23 -- in New York City at the IFC Center, and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Noho 7.

2 comments:

movidora said...

Seems very interesting, I hope we will be able to see Brake in Germany.
I am glad I found this blog.

James van Maanen, said...

Hey, Movidora: I hope you'll be able to see this film in Germany, too. I suspect it will travel well. (And I'm also glad you found my blog.)