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Breathe – Movie Review

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Breathe – Movie Review

Rating: B- (Okay)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

With the multitude of biopics that have been produced over the years, one starts to see the patterns and repetitiveness of the genre. There is a specific formula, especially when dealing with the triumph of the human spirit. Breathe falls into that trap, especially as it repeats itself multiple times during the runtime. It’s a noble directorial debut for Andy Serkis and it is slightly elevated by strong performances. However, one starts to catch on to what Serkis and screenwriter William Nicholson are doing with the narrative. Regardless of the lush scenery and solid acting on display, Breathe can never rise above the trappings of the biopic.

There are two impressive elements in Breathe and both are performance related. Andrew Garfield solidly handles the transition of Robin Cavendish as he deals with his polio. The film jumps through multiple decades and the changing time is seamless as Garfield believably portrays an aging man trying to cope with his condition. Some scenes are almost scary with how close Cavendish comes to death and Garfield deserves just as much credit as Serkis does. The other is a bit of technical wizardry, because it wouldn’t be an Andy Serkis film without him playing around with technology. Tom Hollander plays twin brothers and he portrays each sibling so uniquely, it takes a little while to notice a Parent Trap effect is at work. One tries to spot the tricks and seams and it’s impossible.

Claire Foy is also pivotal to the film as Cavendish’s supportive wife Diana. Foy and Garfield have lovely chemistry and the screenplay thankfully gives Diana just as much importance as her husband. There’s a nurturing and while there are similar beats to the Stephen Hawking biopic The Theory of Everything, this is a relationship that feels genuine. About halfway through Breathe, it becomes easy to spot the repetitive formula. The entire script is built on a trial-and-error approach as Cavendish finds a problem and then in the next scene, somebody has an idea and the dilemma is solved. This repeats ad nauseam to the point one could set a watch to it.

Once we notice this pattern, the second half feels more sluggish than the initial scenes. Even then, the film utilises obvious characters like the snide disbelieving doctor with little respect for his patients. One would have preferred if Stephen Mangan’s sympathetic doctor of disabilities had entered the movie sooner. Nonetheless, Serkis might have been hampered by the material handed to him. He does show considerable skill as a director, with assistance from Robert Richardson providing some lush cinematography. It will be interesting to see future efforts where Serkis isn’t bolted down by an obvious biopic formula. Here is hoping his upcoming adaptation of The Jungle Book allows for more leeway.

Robin Cavendish’s story is certainly important to tell, but one wishes it was made a bit more interesting when transferred to the screen. It’s easy to understand why it has not been given more pizzazz as his son’s role as a producer necessitated a respectful interpretation. However, the film falls into the issue that mars other biopics with similar subject matter. There is a sameness to the whole production, which can make it a bit of a slog to get through at points. Thankfully, the film knows to focus on the principal couple and Garfield and Foy more than deserve attention for their winning performances.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison