Thanks to Roadshow Films, we got to see Simon Baker’s feature length directorial debut, Breath. This is our review of the movie, but as usual, no matter what we say, we still recommend you to go and see it at your local cinema because there is no better critic than yourself! 

Based on the award-winning 2008 novel, Breath, by Tim Winton, the story follows the budding relationship between a retired professional surfer, Sando (Simon Baker) and two young boys Pikelet and Loonie (played by newcomers Samson Coulter and Ben Spence). The story deals with the idea of adolescence and fear with, Baker’s character going to extreme lengths to push them to their limits, to confront their fear as men, whilst almost pushing them to the brink.

Pikelet is quiet, thoughtful and reserved boy and is shown to come from a good family. His best mate however, comes from a broken home – one where fists are quick to fly and the linger of alcohol is never far away. As the film progresses, his increasingly wild antics make it obvious why he has the nickname ‘Loonie’.

When the boys are looking for their next adventure, the inseparable friends take up surfing and are soon taken into the tutelage of the retired pro-surfer Sando. As the relationship between the three develops, the boys fall under the spell of the older man who delights in pushing them to the edge of their limitations, in a way that is both inspiring but also leads the viewer to question the motives of Sando.

But when Pikelet begins to refuse to take part in the increasingly dangerous activities and pulls away form the group, he moves on to develop an uncomfortable relationship with Sando’s considerably older wife Eva – a crippled former pro skier facing an identity crisis, played by Elizabeth Debicki. With Sando and Loonie’s relationship becoming deeper and deeper, as does Pikelet’s and Eva’s, the frictions in the group threaten to unravel all of their lives.

Simon Baker has a pedigree in the film industry as one of Australia’s best exports. In his directorial debut, he has masterfully recreated Winton’s 2008 novel. It’s no small feat given that Baker also stars in the film and co-wrote/produced it. What’s more, it is one of the few films that have managed to blend that mix of storyline and surfing seamlessly together – something many films have tried in the past and failed at miserably.

When Simon spoke to Spotlight Report recently, he talked about how he identified with any aspects of the story, having grown up around surfing. It was this intimate knowledge, and that of the film industry, that unquestionably made him the right choice for the task – as approved by Tim Winton himself.

There are a number stunning scenes and surfing shots with most of the action being performed by the talented Baker and his cohorts, the young actors Coulter and Spence, in beautifully isolated locations in WA. Amazingly, this is the first time the two boys have professionally acted with Baker, in his role as director, deciding it was easier to teach surfers how to act, than actors how to surf. The move was a big leap, but in the two young actors he has without doubt found future stars, in particularly with Coulter.

And while beautifully shot and acted, it’s not a perfect movie by any means. It may have genuineness to it, but it lacks a lot of the detail of the book that leaves some scenes redundant or without answer. The flow of the movie peaks and troughs also – almost like a wave pattern itself. Sometimes the movie flows beautifully and others it seems flat and stunted, waiting for the next wave.

At other times it’s the realness of the illicit relationship between Evan and Pikelet, and the almost graphic sex scenes between the characters that share a lengthy age gap, that unnerves the audience and makes them shift in their seat. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and is a credit to the acting and the direction of the scenes, but it just feels so wrong to watch.

Despite the pitfalls, there is no denying that this is a very good first film from Baker and we were very excited to hear that he has already purchased the rights to another of Tim Winton’s novels. If you loved the book, you’ll enjoy this re-imagining. And if you have not read the book, watch the film first and then read Winton’s beautiful novel, which will fill in some of the gaps left by this film.

Breath – In Cinemas Now