Andy Serkis’ feature directorial debut, Breathe, is a film that is emotionally exhausting to watch and it is one that would have best been served as a documentary rather than what could easily be described as an expensive home movie.
Serkis directs from a screenplay written by William Nicholson. Breathe stars Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Hollander, and Hugh Bonneville.
The filmmakers were smart to focus on the love story in the film’s first few minutes before getting to the gut punch: Robin Cavendish being diagnosed with polio at the age of 28 in the late 1950s. Diana Cavendish (Foy) could have left him and moved on with her life without tending to Robin’s suffering. Instead, they fight through it together. It’s hard work but not without some innovative ideas that are put together. A wheelchair is made thanks to inventor Teddy Hall (Bonneville) so that Robin can go outside of the house rather than be immobile on a bed for the rest of his life.
The film stretches from the late 1950s through Robin’s death in 1994 at the age of 64. One wouldn’t be able to know this from looking at the actors because the film does a terrible job at aging them through the thirty-plus year stretch of time. How could it be possible that neither person aged at all during that time period? The only possible sign of aging is towards the third act when the prosthetic makeup on Garfield is clearly visible.
Both Garfield and Foy are strong in their performances but it’s just not enough to save a flawed film. It is true that making this a biopic is able to attract a larger audience to learn and find out about the story, the story would have been better off as a documentary. Serkis’ name alone is enough to pique viewer interest.
There’s no doubting that Serkis can direct a movie but the actor-director, who is best known for his motion capture work, should perhaps stick to the vehicles that bring out his best work. I get that he wanted to direct this out of respect to his friend and co-founder of production company The Imaginarium, Jonathan Cavendish, but this isn’t the best film to have launched the directorial side of his career. Here’s to a better film for Serkis’ next outing as a director.
Bleecker Street opened Breathe in New York and Los Angeles on October 13, 2017 before expanding to Chicago and other locations on Friday, October 20. A special presentation will screen tonight at 8:30 PM at the Chicago International Film Festival.