Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Andy Serkis' BREATHE walks a fine but difficult line between feel-good and feel-bad

With a serviceable and sometimes more than that screenplay by William Nicholson, excellent performances by a well-chosen cast working near the top of its form, and very smart direction from a first-time filmmaker, Andy Serkis, known best for his computer-generated/performance-capture acting roles, BREATHE turns out to be better in every way than might have been expected. While certain critics have bemoaned Serkis' choice to make his debut directing what some feel is merely a disease-of-the-week movie -- one reviewer, for The New 
York Times, managed to misread the film so completely that she appears to have watched a different one from what the rest of us saw -- TrustMovies feels that Mr Serkis, shown at left, has done a commendable job of telling a story, with honesty and appreciation of what is a near-impossible situation, one that proves every bit as feel-bad as it does feel-good.

That situation is one of adult-onset polio back in the late 1950s that turned an intelligent, vital, healthy young man into a being completely paralyzed from the neck down for the remaining 36 years of his life. How do your turn a story like this into something an audience can not only view and appreciate but find every bit as inspiring and full of fascinating detail as you might wish? Serkis, Nicholson and their cast do exactly that, and they manage to make those impossible-to-contain tears at the finale flow absolutely guilt-free.

The journey of Robin Cavendish, played -- once his body is taken from him, with mostly those amazing, deep-pools-of-expression eyes -- by Andrew Garfield (above), is a remarkable one by any standard, thanks in particular to the help of Cavendish's wife, Diana (performed with humor, restraint and great strength by Claire Foy, below) and his good friend, the inventor Teddy Hall (Hugh Bonneville).

It is the specific detail found in that journey, taking us from England to Africa and across Europe, too, that adds such pleasure and fascination to the tale, as Robin and his helpers find ways of making his own life (and consequently those of other polio and wheelchair-bound patients) richer and more acceptable.

Simply staying alive was thought to be nearly impossible at this time. Making the lives of the respirator-bound more comfortable was not even a consideration -- except perhaps in a certain country noted for its cleanliness and efficiency, as above, where the film's most surprising and quietly shocking scene takes place.

In the supporting cast, special note must be made of the wonderful Tom Hollander (this year's BAFTA winner for The Night Manager) in the small but juicy roles of Diana's twin brothers. The finale is every bit as moving and unsettling as you might expect, but perhaps the film's biggest jolt of emotion comes as the end credits roll and we view photos of the real family and discover how this film came into being and who the person is who was most responsible for shepherding it to the screen.

From Bleecker Street and running a lengthy-but-utterly engrossing 117 minutes, Breathe, after hitting New York City and Los Angeles last week, opens around the country this Friday. Here in South Florida, you can catch it in the Miami area at the The Landmark at Merrick Park 7 and AMC Aventura; in Sunrise at the Regal Sawgrass; in Fort Lauderdale at the Gateway Theatre; in Boynton Beach at the Cinemark; and in West Palm beach at the AMC City Place. Wherever you live, click here and then scroll down to find the theater near you.

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