[Screen It]


(2017) (Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy) (PG-13)

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Drama: A young man with a wife and child must contend with the complications of him contracting polio and then his desire to truly live despite his paralyzed state.
It's the late 1950s and Robin Cavendish (ANDREW GARFIELD) is a British tea broker who travels around the world for work. While in Kenya, he sets his sights on Diana (CLAIRE FOY), the two quickly fall in love, get married and end up expecting a child. But while in Nairobi, Robin contracts polio and suddenly finds himself paralyzed from the neck down. Figuring his life is over and not wanting to burden Diana for however long he might live, he states his desire to die, but she'll have no part of that and has him transported back to England.

After realizing he needs to get out of the polio ward but simultaneously needs to be on a respirator around the clock, Diana and Robin get their professor friend and amateur inventor, Teddy Hall (HUGH BONNEVILLE), to create a wheelchair of sorts with its own battery powered respirator. That allows him to spend more time out and about not only with Diana and their son, Jonathan, but also various friends including Teddy, Colin Campbell (EDWARD SPELEERS), Bloggs Blacker (TOM HOLLANDER) and David Blacker (TOM HOLLANDER), among others.

Robin's remarkable lifestyle and mobility eventually draw the interest of Dr. Clement Aitken (STEPHEN MANGAN) who wants to help others like Robin lead more independent lives. From that point on, and with additional inventions by Teddy, Robin sets out to help him in any way he can, all while enjoying his borrowed time with his family and friends.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
You've likely seen the work of actor Andy Serkis through the years, although I doubt more than a handful of people could pick him out of a line-up. And that's because while he has appeared in "regular" acting roles, he's best known for the characters he's created through motion capture performance.

That's the process where many "dots" are placed on him and then later used by computers and special effects artists to create the likes of Gollum and Caesar in the "Lord of The Rings" and "Planet of the Apes" movie series (among others). While his facial expressions are used with those, he must also use his body in unusual ways to believably create such characters.

Thus, it's interesting that his debut directorial effort, "Breathe," is about Robin Cavendish, a real-life man who ended up leading an extraordinary life considering he was paralyzed from the neck down after contracting polio in the late 1950s. And I say that because it means his star, Andrew Garfield, must act for the majority of his screen time with only his head, much like Eddie Redmayne did in "The Theory of Everything" playing Stephen Hawking.

Yet where that film had the progression of ALS play out over time and thus afforded Redmayne plenty of screen time before ending up wheelchair bound, the onset of the polio symptoms strike quickly here, quite early in the film, meaning Garfield's acting mostly occurs above the shoulders.

Like any such flick about someone facing a huge life-changing event that's left them completely dependent on others to survive, the film shows Robin going through the equivalent of the five stages of grief, this time as related to his loss of the use of most of his body.

But with a wife (Claire Foy) who won't give up, a good set of friends, and a professor who dabbles in amateur inventions (Hugh Bonneville), Robin manages not only to beat the odds in terms of his life expectancy (much like Hawking), but also moves to a new home and travels out and about (including overseas) via his friend's various inventions.

Garfield and Foy are terrific and believable in their roles, as is Bonneville during his brief appearances on screen. But many of the other characters who are around in multiple scenes are barely named, let alone explored, and thus often feel like not much more than human set decorations.

The story -- as penned by screenwriter William Nicholson -- is certainly uplifting, touching and sometimes downright harrowing at various moments. At the same time, however, there really isn't much there in terms of plot. Time moves forward and Robin travels from place to place as the years go by, and while I enjoyed Serkis' decision to mostly go light-hearted with the material, I found myself at times thinking there was probably more to this man, his condition, and his relationship with his wife and friends than is presented here. Of course, it's possible that there wasn't, but in terms of a movie, I felt like the plot was somewhat lacking.

It's not a huge issue, but it certainly prevents the film from having the cinematic gravitas one might be expecting, and what would probably have been necessary for the film to garner some serious end of the year award consideration. Thanks to Garfield and Foy, it's certainly easy to watch, and Serkis does a decent job in his debut behind the camera. "Breathe" rates as a 6 out of 10.

Reviewed October 12, 2017 / Posted October 20, 2017

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