Review: Simon Baker’s adaption of Tim Winton’s ‘Breath’

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Feature Image Source: Nic Duncan Photography

‘Breath’ is a coming of age film based on the novel of the same title written by renowned Australian author, Tim Winton. The film was directed by Simon Baker, with it being his writing and directorial debut. 

Like many of Winton’s novels, the plot is set in the Western Australian fictional town of Angelus. The story begins with two boys in their early teens, Pikelet and Loonie, discovering their love for surfing. The boys, in their quest to get the big waves, develop a ‘mentor’ relationship with an older and wiser surfer, Sando (Simon Baker). The boys become regulars at Sando’s home, and are acquainted with Sando’s American wife, Eva (Elizabeth Debicki). But when Loonie and Sando betray Pikelet by going on a surfing trip without him, Pikelet finds comfort in the arms of Eva. 

From the trailer, the film looks like a coming of age story about two friends who develop a relationship with the ocean through surfing. But the film takes a sudden, disquieting turn into the relationship between Pikelet and Eva – and her fetish for erotic asphyxiation. As much as this was shocking in the novel, it is even more so in the film with less time for character and plot development. 

The film does explore important themes, such as the fear of being ordinary, taking risks and facing danger. However the impact of these themes on audiences will fall short with the distraction of the unusual sexual relationship between Pikelet and Eva. 

Simon Baker makes a somewhat average debut as director. The biggest challenge for Baker when adapting the novel, was going to be translating Winton’s lyrical description of water and the emotions the characters have for the ocean. This was achieved through the film’s cinematography, (done by Rick Rifici) with incredible under water shots that demonstrate just how much of a character the ocean is in the novel. 

Not only was this Baker’s debut being director, but the two main characters (Bruce Pike and Loonie) were played by debuting actors Samson Coulter and Ben Spence. Although this wasn’t obvious, with their acting performances being that of seasoned actors, a highlight being the comedic relief of Spence’s depiction of Loonie. 

‘Breath’ is a fair first attempt at feature films by Baker, but the overall adaption of the novel lacked the depth that Winton’s writing deserved. 

Image Source: Penguins Books Australia

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