Set in Western Australia, “Breath” takes us back to the 1970s for a romance with boys learning to be macho through surfing. The best part of Simon Baker’s directorial debut, is the sun-baked cinematography of Harry Gregson-Williams.
Don’t confuse “Breath” with the 2017 biographical movie “Breathe” which is about polio-survivor Robin Cavendish (Andrew Garfield) and how with his wife, Diana (Claire Foy). “Breath” has less lofty goals.
The Australian-born Baker (“The Mentalist”) is on familiar ground. He’s taking Australian author Tim Winton’s 2008 “Breath”; the title refers to the balance between life, daring and death. A middle-aged Bruce “Pikelet” Pike, who we never see, is remembering his friendship with Ivan “Loonie” Loon. As teenagers, they dared each other to hold their breath under water but the dares between them became more reckless, leading them to take up surfing and fall into a relationship with a mysterious professional surfer, Bill “Sando” Sanderson. Sando pushes them to more challenges, man against the water.
Elizabeth Debicki gets the thankless role of Eva. She was more alluring complex in “The Night Manager,” but here’s she’s mainly the kind of reward one gets from going professional in the first part. In the second half, when Sando take off with the more reckless Loonie, she gets to be the older woman who introduces Pikelet to sex and a little fetish of asphyxiation and another connection to the title.
Not having read the book, I don’t know if Winton made Eva more complex, but the screenplay is credited to Gerard Lee, Baker and Winton. Eva, a former high-level skier suffered a catastrophic injury and has surgery before Sando takes off with his new protegé. Her scenes in the second half are soft-focused silky porn that doesn’t address the questionable morality but does show how this affair damages Pikelet’s possible age appropriate romance with a school mate.
Things do not end well for Loonie, but we don’t see that either. Reportedly, the production was partially funded by the Western Australian State Government and hopes of promoting Western Australia. The coastal town of Denmark does have beautiful beaches, so perhaps that money wasn’t totally wasted.