Combustible Celluloid
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With: Andrew Garfield, Claire Foy, Tom Holland, Hugh Bonneville, Dean-Charles Chapman, Ed Speleers, Miranda Raison, Stephen Mangan, Jonathan Hyde
Written by: William Nicholson
Directed by: Andy Serkis
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic material including some bloody medical images
Running Time: 117
Date: 10/20/2017

Breathe (2017)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Critical Chair

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Andrew Garfield plays the heroic, real-life Robin Cavendish (1930-1994), who was stricken with polio and lived most of his life paralyzed from the neck down. Unwilling to settle for the horrible conditions of polio sufferers, staring at the same four walls their entire lives, he was influential in inventing a wheelchair that contained a battery-powered breathing apparatus, and in helping to "free" many other disabled patients. It's a great story, but the fictional biopic Breathe is the most typical kind of slick Oscar bait.

It's filled with "moments of genius," wherein the character makes a life-changing discovery in the space of one scene, and it's filled with ever-changing age makeup that never quite seems right and an army of ever-older, forgettable kid actors replacing the younger, forgettable ones. It has a music score that switches on cue from morose to chirpy, and it feels excruciatingly long. Garfield, however, gets to perform in an unbroken two-hour string of Oscar clips that will surely get him a nomination, and — if this film isn't completely panned — the Oscar. (He's a great actor and surely deserves to win, at some point, for something better than this.)

Other people are in it, too, but they don't have quite as many Oscar-clip moments. Claire Foy (from Netflix's The Crown) is the long-suffering wife. And for some reason, a special effects team was hired to turn Tom Hollander into twins, cousins or something, but they never come to life. Breathe was directed by Andy Serkis — his debut — who is a genius with motion capture in front of the camera. Critics might scratch their heads and wonder what he was doing making this, and perhaps draw some kind of conclusion between being stuck in a mo-cap suit and stuck in a wheelchair. But I'll just call it "misguided" and leave it at that.

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