Review: Breath a visually stunning but flawed drama about growing up in coastal Australia

Based on the award-winning, best-selling novel of the same name by Australian author Tim Winton, Breath is the directorial debut of The Mentalist’s Simon Baker, and tells the story of two teenage boys who form a life-changing friendship with an older surfer.

Pikelet (Samson Coulter) and Loonie (Ben Spence) are pals. Pikelet is an instrospective only child who lives with his parents in a calm and nurturing home. Loonie is a wild card. He’s not committed to school, he’s rambunctious, and he’s a bit of a troublemaker, likely the result of having an abusive father.

On one of their outings to the beach, the boys meet Sando (Simon Baker), an older surfer who lives in a fashionable shack by the ocean. He becomes a mentor of sorts – exuding vibes that are part older brother, part father figure, and part coach. He teaches the boys how to surf – how to find the best conditions, how to approach the waves and, in so doing, how to make the most of their youth.

The photography, particularly when close to the water, is beautiful. Muted cool tones dominate the screen throughout, perfectly conjuring the feeling of a seaside town in the 1970s.

The performances are steady, with much of the screen time devoted to Coulter’s clean rendition of the tentative Pikelet. Spence’s portrayal of Loonie is bright and entertaining, as he eggs people on and becomes visibly stirred by his newfound passion. Baker looks the part of an aged surfer, and he easily inhabits the gentle and complicated character of Sando. Elizabeth Debicki does well in a pivotal role as Sando’s wife, Eva, a former professional athlete who is both guarded and aloof.

This partly simple coming-of-age surf movie diverts its focus to a surprising relationship between Pikelet and Eva, and the film takes time exploring kink and sexuality. I suspect that this plotline is thoroughly woven into the fibre of the novel, but unfortunately, in the context of the film, it simply doesn’t land.

Baker has delivered a thoughtful film about growing up in an era that we often view as being carefree, but the film suffers slightly from not always being able to delve beneath the surface of the narrative.

(Photo courtesy David Dare Parker.)

Breath opens Friday, Aug. 31 at the Globe Cinema. For showtimes please click here.

Jane McCullough used to write about many things musical, artistic, cinematic and delicious with the publications VOX and Fast Forward. She is currently manages the cooking school at The Cookbook Co. Cooks.