A worthy attempt by first-time director Simon Baker to capture a truly Australian story.
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Based on Tim Winton’s novel of the same name, Breath follows two teenage boys in WA’s South West who strike up a friendship with local surfer Sando (Simon Baker). On their search for adventure, the two boys find themselves navigating moral minefields as they struggle to grow into the men they want to be.
Breath has so far been well-received by those familiar with the novel and Winton’s writing. In his feature film directorial debut, Australian actor-turned-director Simon Baker has captured the essence of Winton’s writing style and successfully translated it onto the screen. However, in being so true to the source material, I fear Breath potentially alienates any who lack knowledge of or simply don’t appreciate Winton’s ways of storytelling.
Baker’s film moves at a slow and meandering pace that takes the time to ‘stop and smell the roses’ and express the laidback vibe of 1970’s regional WA. While this approach allows for some beautiful cinematography of the ocean and the landscape, it also means the narrative tends to take a bit of a back seat.
Understand that when I say the story unfolds slowly – I mean it’s glacial. Sitting in the cinema, I became painfully aware of the amount of time it was taking to set up the story and began to wonder if it would all be over before anything really happened. Then, when the conflict finally came, it hit so hard and fast that it felt rushed as it tried to tackle such complex and confronting themes.
Thankfully, the film is somewhat saved by its two lead performances. Cast based on their surfing skills and with no prior acting experience, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence are startlingly good as the two young boys at the centre of the story.
Coulter plays the main protagonist Pikelet and brings a sensitivity and maturity that seasoned actors struggle to conjure. His ability to keep Pikelet’s emotions just below the surface keeps you rooting for him, even when some of his actions are less morally driven.
Pikelet’s quiet sensibility is off-set perfectly by the loud and brash Loonie (Spence), whose knack for wild tales and ocker expressions brings some much-needed comic relief. He is the perfect embodiment of the slightly rougher characters you find in Australian country towns, but whether the character will resonate with international audience is yet to be seen.
How Breath fares at the worldwide Box Office will be the real test. Here we have a classic Australian story and a worthy adaptation, but any lacking context may not connect with it.
Breath is available in Australian cinemas from May 3
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films