Reel Shorts | Breathe (Middleburg Film Festival)

by Charles Kirkland Jr.

Andy Serkis takes on his toughest role yet, as director for the movie Breathe.

Robin and Diana Cavendish (Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy) fall madly in love and travel to Africa where Robin makes his money as a tea trader. A short time after Diana tells Robin that she is pregnant, Robin contracts Polio and becomes irreversibly paralyzed. Confined to a bed, Robin must watch and cope as their son is born and Diana must care for him.

All of the above happens within the first twenty minutes of the film. Andrew Garfield spends the entirety of the film confined to a bed or a chair and must only communicate with his face and voice. Garfield’s performance as Peter Parker in The Amazing Spider-Man series first displayed his ability to communicate through his face. While he succeeded in portraying the angst and awkwardness of a high school teenage superhero, his performance in this movie is a little off-putting. The facial tics and expressions Garfield uses as Cavendish is communicating at times seem a little overdone but, when put into the context of the story of a man discovering his ability to reach and entertain his son, they become absolutely appropriate. Nonetheless, they are still a little weird to see.

Foy’s performance is a true delight as the dedicated and loving wife, Diana Cavendish. Diana is the moral center of the story and Foy holds up well in the role. Strong and loving through most of the movie, Foy has an emotional tenderness that is charming and exquisite.

Breathe is a personal passion project of Andy Serkis because it is the true story of the parents of his friend, and producer of the movie, Johnathan Cavendish. Serkis, who is well known as the king of motion capture performances, is also making his directorial debut with Breathe. Fortunately, Serkis does well in this movie. The pacing of the movie is very good, at no time does the film drag or lose its intensity. The composition of the film is good as well, the story and motivations are clearly illustrated. Serkis uses colors well and his cinematic vision is very good, he makes sure that everyone looks their best. He doesn’t appear to overcoach and allows the talent to do their work. Overall, this is a very good first effort for Serkis.

The one knock I have for the film is that it is a little one-sided. Except for one scene of peril, the whole movie is positive and uplifting. I know that this movie is based on a true story but the movie is about a man suffering from a debilitating disease. In one scene of the movie, Diana mentions being short on money but that situation is glossed over quickly and resolved a little too easily. Maybe a little turmoil would make the movie a little more relatable. Maybe a little less fantasy and more reality are necessary for balance. Surely, the goal of this movie is to be uplifting and encouraging and it succeeds but, if it weren’t for the words and the obligatory real footage in the credits, no one would believe Breathe was based on a true story.

Rated PG-13 for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images Breathe is a joyous triumph for Serkis. Positive and emotional, the movie is a beautiful, warm and loving tribute to the life of Robin and Diana Cavendish that producer Johnathan can hang up in a digital picture frame as an inspiring memoir of his parents.

Grade: B