Of all today's famous screen actors, Andy Serkis is one of the most unique ones. Meaning that he's widely known for not "usual" roles but those based on motion capture - Gollum in Tolkien universe, Caesar the smart ape in "Planet of the Apes" franchise.
The technology wizards record his movements, create a digital body on top of that but also make a strong use of the man's facial movements and gestures, so the resulting creature would look like lovely yet kind of creepy combination of human and alien.
But Serkis seems to have aspirations behind the camera as well. "Breathe" is his directing debut, and there's another one already coming, newest adaptation of "Mowgli" in October.
Serkis is not all about action and sci-fi, "Breathe" is based on actual events and has this pleasant old-fashioned look and feel that makes it a promising date movie, and instantly attractive for the little girl living inside every one of us.
Based on promotional materials, it looks like a love story, which it is for the first ten minutes or so. Then it turns into an inspirational movie and stays that way. Which brings, sadly, emotionally limp results as my score of 5/10 has already hinted.
Plot summary found on IMDB gives a perfect example of what exactly the movie is prepared to offer: "The inspiring true love story of Robin and Diana Cavendish, an adventurous couple who refuse to give up in the face of a devastating disease. Their heartwarming celebration of human possibility..." The couple is played by Andrew Garfield and Claire Foy, sadly the "adventurous" is not saying anything about their sex life.
Serkis seems to be a fan of valuing how things look on screen and not if they have any real depth to speak of.
His famous performances mentioned above are a good example how the "one-note but pretty" approach can bring awesome results - because the computer-generated images look good and there's also a lot more going on in those movies.
"Breathe" looks beautiful, but doesn't have any other strengths to support the weak storytelling. There's no depth nor any real development to those relationships and characters that we see on screen.
Everybody and everything here is so black and white that it's impossible to relate in an authentic way.
It hurts the main character the most. Why exactly are we supposed to find him inspirational as the other characters like to hint at, especially near the end? What kind of relationship does he actually have with his wife, son, friends? We don't see anything explaining that.
A long life by itself should not be equalled to good or meaningful one, just as a long marriage by itself is not a sure sign of happy marriage. Clinging to life in the face of adversities is not exactly inspirational, it's something of a basic human instinct, although not everybody in the world has a strong inner contact with it.
There's a recent, similar movie "The Theory of Everything" where they at least try to show, why and how the paralysed hero (Stephen Hawking played by Eddie Redmayne) is inspirational to all the others. In "Breathe", they only tell us so, passingly but repeatedly.
It's important to add that the movie was produced by real-life Cavendish's son, who co-owns the film company with Serkis.
I am quite OK with simplistic stories painted with thick colors - there's nothing wrong with good Hollywood melodrama - but "Breathe" is in dire need of something that would really count as inspirational (well, other than the producers' promise, of course).
The greatest cretive success in the movie comes probably as a result of hiring Andrew Garfield as the leading man. He has a suitable physicality and presence for such a role - boyish good looks coupled with a touch of almost child- or animal-like innocence.
This made him great also in Mel Gibson's war drama "Hacksaw Ridge". Too bad the material allows him to express his acting range here mostly by smiling, be it sad or happy smile.
"Breathe" is a mediocre drama suitable for those who can't get enough of sad stories no matter how well they are told. For everybody else, it's an example of what happens when somebody has tried to do something specifically "suitable" for award season.
The Oscar nominations are not announced yet but I hope "Breathe" has the same zero-level success as with all the other movie awards so far. It's close to two quite long hours of sweet nothing.
For wishing to end with a positive note, I want to say that Serkis has absolutely succeeded in making a feel-good movie about being almost completely paralysed. And there's one truly remarkable, bizarre-looking scene depicting the main hero entering a room chock-full of other similar patients. But that's about all.