Movie reviews: 'Breathe' a touching true story with buoyant tone
Published Friday, October 20, 2017 6:00AM EDT
BREATHE: 3 STARS
In “Breathe” Andrew Garfield plays Robin Cavendish, one of the longest-lived responauts in Britain history. It is, among other things, undoubtedly the bubbliest movie about polio ever made.
The opening moments of Breathe are so unrelentingly chipper that as an audience member you just know the party will end soon and some sort of tragedy will happen. When we first meet Robin, it’s 1958. He’s a young, vital man who falls in love at first sight with Diana Blacker (Claire Foy), a beautiful, rich woman he meets at a cricket match. It’s all sunshine and roses as they quickly fall in love, get married, get pregnant and move to Kenya to pursue Robin’s career as a tea merchant.
It’s a picture-perfect romance until Robin’s health begins to falter. He’s short of breath, his limbs ache. Soon he can barely stand. By the time he is diagnosed with polio, he is paralyzed from the neck down. “The result is you become like a ragdoll,” Diana is told by the doctor. “He can't breath for himself. The paralysis is irreversible.”
Grim news for the newlyweds. Given just three months to live, Robin asks to be allowed to die but his doctors and Diana will hear nothing of it. Hooked up to a ventilator, he lays motionless and despondent in a hospital ward waiting for the inevitable. Unable to find any joy in life, he tries to push Diana away but she perseveres, visiting every day.
Then the jaunty music reappears on the soundtrack and a smile returns to Robin’s face. The couple hatch a plan to move home so Robin can live out his final moments surrounded by the creature comforts of home. “No one, anywhere in the world with your husband’s degree of disability exists outside a hospital,” warns the doctor. Except that he does. In fact he thrives, living for decades, becoming an activist for people with disabilities and helping to design mobile life support machines to untether patients from their beds. “Do you see a creature who is barely alive,” he asks, “or a man who escaped the confines of a hospital board? I don't want to just survive, I want to truly live.”
“Breathe” breathes the same air as other indomitable spirit movies like “My Left Foot” and “The Theory of Everything.” The big difference is that this is a relentlessly upbeat film. “Are we plucky or pitiful” asks Diana. The answer is obvious but eventually there is something endearing, winning even, about its uncompromisingly buoyant tone. Perhaps that’s because director Andy Serkis paints the story as a love story rather than a medical drama or maybe it’s because of the winning performances from Garfield and Foy.
Garfield is ostensibly the lead but it is Foy who impresses. “The Crown” actress is the heart and soul of the story, providing a rock solid foundation for Garfield’s character.
“Breathe” doesn’t have the gravitas of “The Theory of Everything”—it spends too much time trying to wring all the emotion out of the story like tears from a sponge—but it does have compassion and heart.
THE SNOWMAN: 1 STAR
Adapted from the best-selling book of the same name by Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø “The Snowman” is a Scandinavian whodunit with a frosty storyline.
Someone is killing women in Oslo, leaving behind their dismembered bodies and creepy looking snowmen with grimaces made of coffee beans at the crime scenes. All the victims are mothers seemingly “punished” by the snowy sicko for extra martial affairs and terminated pregnancies. To add a macabre purity metaphor to the proceedings, each of their deaths happens during a new snowfall.
Into this grim situation comes alliteratively named detective Harry Hole (Michael Fassbender). “I need a case,” he wheezes at his boss. “I apologise for Oslo’s low-murder rate,” comes the reply.
When Hole is not drinking, chain-smoking or finding new ways to alienate the other members of the Oslo Crime Squad, he’s reserving whatever humanity is tucked away inside for his ex Rakel (Charlotte Gainsbourg) and her teenage son.
Teamed with newbie Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) he plods through a sea of red herrings to uncover the identity of Norway’s icy serial killer. “We studied your cases at the Academy,” she says. “You’re up there with the legends.”
We’ve seen this Nordic Noir before and better.
“The Snowman” ticks off all the cop movie clichés. There’s a detective bedevilled by seeing too much death, a protagonist with a personal stake in the case, a serial murderer with a deeply rooted reason for killing and senior cops too quick to try and close cases.
Fassbender’s Hole is a caricature, a once brilliant detective reduced to a bleary-eyed, brooding drunk. His scenes with Ferguson are underplayed to the point of flat lining the drama. Not that there is much drama.
Director Tomas Alfredson—whose films “Let the Right One In” and “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” are both four star movies—manages moments of tension but doesn’t sustain them. He continuously breaks up the tension with flashbacks and dour staring contests between the serious faced actors.
Add to that a curious lack of Oslo accents—the real mystery here is why these Norwegians speak as though they just graduated RADA—Val Kilmer in a Razzie worthy performance and you’re left with a movie that left me as cold as the snowman‘s grin.
UNA: 3 ½ STARS
Based on the play “Blackbird” by Scottish playwright David Harrower, “Una” is an uncomfortable look into an uncomfortable subject.
Rooney Mara is the title character, a twenty-something who takes action after seeing a picture of Ray (Ben Mendelsohn) in a magazine. The two have a past. Fifteen years earlier, when she was thirteen and Ray was a middle-aged man, he seduced her, a crime he paid for with four years in prison. “You wanted to be treated like an adult,” Ray says. “That’s what children say.”
Convinced his actions put her in a downward spiral, she goes to his place of work to confront him. He’s re-established himself with a new name, wife and job. She demands to know why he did what he did, and why he abandoned her when they were about to make a run for it and leave England to start a new life together.
What might have been a straightforward story of a search for answers defies preconceived audience expectations with the ethical landmines Harrower (who also wrote the script) plants along the way. In its most startling turn “Una” asks the audience to consider the interaction between Ray and Una, the abuser and the abused, as some kind of love story. Rooney and Mendelsohn, both very good in difficult roles, explore the thin lines the story draws between abuse and love, between right and wrong, between desire and guilt. It’s complicated and messy as Ray is forced to confront a past he’d rather subvert while Una looks for answers. “I don't know anything about you except you abused me,” she says.
“Una” lurches headlong into controversial territory, unflinchingly presenting a painful story that offers no easy answers.
TAKE EVERY WAVE: THE LIFE OF LAIRD HAMILTON: 2 STARS
Laird Hamilton describes himself as “full of testosterone and just obnoxious.” That may have been true during his 1980s heyday as the world’s best big wave surfer, but these days, he has channelled those qualities into an obsession with the ocean that drives him to grow and evolve, personally and professionally, with the sport.
In surfing circles, Hamilton is a household. Less so on dry land. A new documentary from Rory Kennedy, “Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton,” aims to rectify that. Laird didn’t make his name the way other professional surfers did; he made his name by being innovative, moving away from mainstream surfing into the early days of wind surfing and acrobatic surf moves. “We all thought he was crazy,” says big wave surfer Terry Chung.
He did things no one else thought of. He put Velcro on his board, which allowed him to go airborne. He invented foil-boarding, a technique that allows him to glide above the water, as if he’s flying over the waves. It’s beautiful to behold but we get it, he’s an innovator. We don’t need to be told over and over.
There’s something that feels a bit too authorized about “Take Every Wave.” It feels like an exercise in legend building more than an in depth portrait of Hamilton. His early years as a troubled youth are detailed but once he hits the water the movie turns into a hagiography. Hamilton is a likeable subject, if a bit egomaniacal, but instead of digging deep and showing the consequence of his actions we’re given a Biography Channel level glimpse into his psyche.
On the upside, the photography—both from director Kennedy and Hamilton’s Strapped Crew—is breathtaking. The primal power of the sea juxtaposed with one man’s notions of how to conquer it make for impressive visuals.
Also entertaining is the colourful lingo. “The ride after the ride,” is what happens when you wipe out and plummet to the bottom. Even better is the self-explanatory “wave of heaviest consequence."
“Take Every Wave: The Life of Laird Hamilton” has a few moments of intrigue, mostly from the first person tales of waves gone wrong. Other than that it’s a visually pleasing collection of Sport Illustrated style photography that offers little insight into Hamilton or the sport.