Breathe In begins with an absolutely perfect display of intelligent filmmaking. Drake Doremus, who co-wrote and directed the film, knows that if you’re fortunate enough to cast Guy Pearce in your movie, the only thing you really need to do is put the camera close-up on his face. Pearce will do the rest. The actor is a master of emotional control, and in these opening scenes, we watch as Pearce’s character, Keith Reynolds, suffers through taking an annual family photo with his wife, Megan (Amy Ryan) and his daughter, Lauren (Mackenzie Davis). It’s all in his eyes, which display a man of broken dreams and shattered spirit. Keith Reynolds is a man who gave up on himself, and Breathe In is an exploration into the dangers of taking your life back.
The bond between Keith and Sophie is established on the ride home from the airport. Keith, a once-inspired New York City musician who now reluctantly teaches at a high school upstate, is the instructor of Sophie’s piano class. Beyond music, Sophie seems to be the only one who notices Keith’s sorrow. And instead of verbalizing her observation, she studies him, becoming enchanted with his melancholy with each passing day. In Sophie, Keith sees an innocence that enthralls him. He becomes quietly fascinated with her charm, maturity and delicate beauty.
And I know what you’re thinking. With a plot like this, Breathe In only has one place to go. A place that, given the characters’ respective ages, ventures into creepy territory. That’s a fair thought, but ultimately, a misguided one. Doremus understands the perceptions of his material, and, thankfully, he has the insight and talent to present it in a refreshing way. Doremus and Ben York Jones’ script is largely to thank for this, but the actors are equally essential. I’ve long since considered Guy Pearce one of the finest actors we have, and Keith allows him to tap into a vulnerability that is immensely compelling. I first took notice of Felicity Jones in Doremus’ previous film, the honest and beautiful and all together perfect romantic drama, Like Crazy. Here, Jones delivers what could be her finest work yet. Sophie is a damn tough role – reserve too much, and she’s a victim; give too much, and she’s a tramp. Jones finds a perfect balance, presenting Sophie as an enlightened young woman fully aware of her choices.
Doremus has a fluid method of filmmaking that has proven to be somewhat polarizing. In terms of style, both Like Crazy and Breathe In are shot with a ceaselessly moving camera. (A camera that, for the record, always seems to catch the right moment at exactly the right time.) Music is important, as it often accompanies entire sequences that have little to no dialogue. Editing cuts are sharp and often jump around to showcase the same event multiple times. For example, the moment Keith and Sophie first embrace, we see it from one angle, with the two of them lying down. Seconds later, we see what appears to be the same initial embrace, but this time the actors are sitting upright. At the risk of being presumptuous, I assume Doremus used two different takes of the same scene and cut them together. The continuity is purposefully off, thereby creating a unique moment of shared love. Very few filmmakers have the audacity to implore such a technique, and that may be one of the reasons why some have trouble connecting with Doremus’ work.
My point is, if Breathe In is a film that stylistically and/or narratively divides people, then I proudly assert myself as a dedicated admirer of the picture. There wasn’t a single moment of Breathe In that forced me to disengage. The film captivated me from frame one and never dared to let me go. Surely one of the most honest and beautiful and all together perfect romantic dramas I’m likely to see all year. A-