BAKER’S DE­LIGHT

FOR HIS DI­REC­TO­RIAL DE­BUT, SI­MON BAKER TAKES ON TIM WIN­TON’S BREATH

The Gold Coast Bulletin - Gold Coast Eye - - MOVIES - WORDS: J AV I ERE N CAL AD A

De­spite liv­ing all my life in coastal towns in South America and Aus­tralia, I have never been a lover of the ocean; I never needed to get chest deep in the wa­ter in the mid­dle of win­ter or travel around de­serted beaches look­ing for the per­fect wave to surf.

Over the years I’ve watched many surf movies, but none of them ex­plained this ‘ocean love’ to me – un­til Breath.

Ad­mit­tedly, Breath is way more than just a surf movie. As a quin­tes­sen­tial Aus­tralian story, it’s a com­ing-of-age tale that is framed by the life aquatic – a cor­ner­stone of the Aussie life­style.

Based on Tim Win­ton’s book of the same ti­tle, Breath fol­lows Sando, a former pro surfer in the mid-1970s who de­cides to go out of his way to men­tor two teens who are ob­sessed with surf­ing.

The book was pub­lished in 2008, and won the Miles Franklin Lit­er­ary Award in 2009. Sando is played by Bal­lina ac­tor and The

Men­tal­ist star Si­mon Baker, with Aus­tralian El­iz­a­beth De­bicki as his wife Eva.

Two new­com­ers with zero act­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, young surfers Sam­son Coul­ter and Ben Spence, were cast as the iconic young men. It was a bet that re­ally paid off. The film works on many lev­els but the first one is how true it is to the book, thanks to Win­ton’s in­volve­ment in the pro­ject from its in­cep­tion.

It was an Amer­i­can pro­ducer, not an Aus­tralian, who got the pro­ject go­ing in the first place.

Vet­eran Hol­ly­wood pro­ducer Mark John­son ( Rain Man, The Notebook, the Nar­nia tril­ogy) se­cured the rights to the book from Win­ton, and then en­gaged Baker and Aus­tralian pro­ducer Jamie Hil­ton to be part of the pro­ject.

Young ac­tors Spence and Coul­ter are both so good. They’re pos­si­bly play­ing them­selves, but they of­fer in­sights of com­edy, drama and emo­tion that out-stage Baker as the driv­ing force of the film.

As Loonie, Spence is a nat­u­ral comedic force that could sparkle into a bright fu­ture for the young surfer.

As Pikelet, Coul­ter is dig­ni­fied, clear and el­e­gant but at the same time awk­ward and un­sure – as a reg­u­lar teenager should be.

Baker is great as Sando in an un­der­stated per­for­mance.

But the star’s real shine this time is not on screen, but be­hind the cam­era. Although he has di­rected episodes of The

Men­tal­ist and The Guardian, this is Baker’s first di­rect­ing job in a fea­ture film. He had to wait for the right time and for

The Men­tal­ist to end, but it was a wise choice.

The surf­ing se­quences are bril­liant, the film’s rhythm works and the story is told with nu­ance and el­e­gance.

Breath made me un­der­stand why peo­ple are so at­tached to the sea, why they re­ally need to be near it, and in it, of­ten.

The com­ing-of-age story, the un­fold­ing of drama and emo­tional up­heavals are of­ten only ex­plained in di­a­logue-free scenes.

Furtive glances and long si­lences, in true Aussie male com­mu­ni­ca­tion style, mark this film.

It works, and it will work not only for Aus­tralian au­di­ences but for movie lovers (and surfers) in­ter­na­tion­ally, be­cause the emo­tions are clearly vis­i­ble, and the story flows well.

Breath is an in­stant Aus­tralian clas­sic done bril­liantly by Baker, the re­luc­tant Hol­ly­wood star turned suc­cess­ful di­rec­tor.

The bet was high but the pay­out should be ex­po­nen­tial.

Breath opens in cin­e­mas May 3.

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