Simon Baker’s coming-of-age drama Breath should have a healthy run in Australian cinemas and internationally, according to the first reviews following the world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival.
The critics praised Baker’s feature directing debut and the performances of newcomers Samson Coulter and Ben Spence and of Baker himself, Elizabeth Debicki and Richard Roxburgh.
Adapted from Tim Winton’s novel by Winton, Baker and Gerard Lee, the plot follows teenagers Pikelet (Coulter) and Loonie (Spence) and their relationship with Sando (Baker), a pro surfer living in a secluded house with his wife Eva (Debicki), a former freestyle skier forced to retire after an injury. Roxburgh and Rachael Blake play Pikelet’s parents and Jacek Koman is Loonie’s father, a violent drunk.
Screen Daily’s Sarah Ward predicts Australian audiences will greet the feature enthusiastically, appealing to fans of “thoughtful, searching dramas.”
Thanks to his US fame, the Mentalist star’s name will entice interest following the Toronto premiere but Breath “remains textured and involving regardless of his profile,” Ward said.
She likened Coulter’s physicality and well-deployed words to a young Bryan Brown, described Spence as a lively scene-stealer, Debicki as sympathetically brittle and a scruffy Baker as tender and resonant — much like his feature itself.
The Hollywood Reporter’s David Rooney reckoned Baker’s assured direction and on-camera presence will help expand the audience beyond Australia, where the critically-acclaimed book’s popularity should ensure a healthy release.
Rooney said Baker’s long experience as an actor clearly helped him draw expressive work from his cast, observing, “Spence is immensely likable, making Loonie an instantly identifiable Aussie type, a cheeky larrikin with a subconscious self-destructive streak and a vulnerability disguised even to himself.
“The chameleonic Debicki is superb as always, her Eva both ethereal and anchored by bitter sadness. And in a performance that’s a master class in economy, Roxburgh shows again why he’s one of Australia’s best actors by conveying the gentle wistfulness of Pikelet’s dad, whose concern for his son is coloured by the melancholy mixed feelings of a parent about letting go.”
Baker nails the role of Sando by underplaying rather than romanticising the character’s function as a worldly guru figure, Rooney added.
Roadshow will release the drama produced by Baker, Mark Johnson’s Gran Via Productions and Jamie Hilton’s See Pictures in May. Embankment Films is selling international rights.