Director: Andy Serkis
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, Hugh Bonneville, Dean Charles Chapman, Miranda Raison, Ed Speelers, Jonathan Hyde, Diana Rigg
Run Time: 117 mins
Breathe marks the directorial debut of motion capture maestro Andy Serkis and recounts the important, true story of Robin Cavendish, an individual whose content life is brought to a halt after he is stricken down with polio. Cavendish is played by the ever-talented Andrew Garfield, who put in two brilliant performances already this year in Silence and Hacksaw Ridge. Breathe is arguably the most physical of the three performances for Garfield, who very much has to act with his facial expressions. Serkis is no stranger to the theme of disability, putting in a brilliant performance in Ian Dury biopic, Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll.
Breathe is a decidedly safe film, mind, and is a neat, concise account of Cavendish’s life. Andrew Garfield, again demonstrates why he is one of the best actors working currently, towering over the rest of the cast. I’m reluctant to call it ‘Oscar-bait’ as that would be a disservice to its powerful story but Serkis would have really benefitted from crafting a more dark and daring film that explored more of Cavendish’s pains and feelings rather than every single character being portrayed as so upbeat, a quintessentially British mood. The swooning score by Nitin Sawhney fits the film neatly too and there are some nice moment in Robert Richardson’s cinematography.
Serkis runs into big problems late into the film as he simply doesn’t know where to end it. In my opinion, Serkis has two great opportunities (one after a powerful speech and another, after a shot of the ventilator working) but he squanders it and the film becomes overlong and increasingly emotionally manipulative. The final scenes are obviously intended for audiences to shed a tear but it left me cold, threatening to undo the good work he had done in the first 90 minutes.
For all its flaws, I was never bored by Breathe and for its first 90 minutes or so, it is particularly strong and tells a timely story of Cavendish’s life. It’s just a shame that Serkis chose not to be more risk-averse. If he did, the film could have been particularly special and that would justify its existence more for the relevant Awards.