[17 October 2012]
To give you a sense of what is at play with Breathless, and independent release with an impressive cast, imagine you are visiting the home of what are infrequent friends. Before embarking on a night on the town you begin with cocktails in their home and enjoy the talk. The pleasant conversation, however, begins to stray into weird areas after a few drinks, and before long you truly would like to move on before things become tense and uncomfortable.
Just like those acquaintances, this film holds an initial appeal; good performances, nice camera composition, and dialogue that bristles to fine effect. But at times scenes are allowed to meander, and the plot simply doesn’t hold up over the running time. Much of the exercise holds that dichotomy of quality, going from enjoyable, to taxing, and then back and forth between the two. Sometimes the story rises above the thin plot, other times it becomes undone by the lack of substance.
The title sequence opens things properly. Tight framing is used to display everyday activities, the artful close-ups of food preparation used to foreshadow the limited set piece and graphic imagery we are going to be served; excepting only a few exterior shots this whole film takes place inside of trailer in the outback of Texas. Gina Gershon plays Lorna, a feisty and fed up chain smoker who has reached her limit with her lying and philandering husband Dale (Val Kilmer), who just happens to be lying unconscious on the floor as Lorna’s good friend Tiny (Kelli Giddish) arrives over to visit. Lorna explains that not only is she convinced Dale has been cheating on her, but she’s convinced that he was the one who executed a recent area bank robbery. As he is tied up and revived the conversation turns on where it is the denying Dale has stashed the $100,000.
When confronted with a story as confined as the setting the strength of a film like this relies entirely on the cast, and that is where Breathless excels. Gershon plays Lorna as strong-willed and commanding, and she modulates her accent so as to be believable and not cartoonish. Giddish is not lost in the wake either, delivering her Tiny as a reactive and natural ally. Adding to the quality is a script that gives them lines both filled with local colloquialisms and comically elevated language. These are women with an eye on things greater, but unable to see the path out of their lot. During a discussion where Lorna derides Tiny for preferring light cigarettes the friend replies, “Don’t hail me for trying to buy a little bit of extra time on this Earth, in case something worthwhile comes up.” However good they are on camera, though, what cannot be always conquered is the lack of substance in the story.
This is a character study hinged on the bank robbery plot, and gradually revelations are trotted out, and then a series of stark, and often very graphic, shocks are tossed at the audience. The tone here is dark humor, with most of it working to effect. What doesn’t work however is director Jesse Baget allowing many of the ensuing scenes to play out longer than needed. A tighter script and some disciplined editing would have streamlined the narrative; however I suspect this comes largely from the fact that the story didn’t have enough to justify a feature length script. Two women conspiring to learn the location of the money, while exploring the realities of their lives, makes for some good scenes but just as many of those scenes continue too long and the interest evaporates. Even when outside characters are introduced – such as Ray Liotta as a sheriff convinced of wrong-doing in the household – the invigorated nature becomes drained by the extended nature of things.
There’s enough at play here to justify a viewing. The acting, cinematography, and dialogue do carry things well, and there’s enjoyment watching the character development. With more substance to the plot and a tighter rein on the scenes, this would be a title to rave about. As it stands it’s enjoyable and at least worth the effort.
Extras: A standard behind-the-scenes video involves interviews with the producers and director. Save for a few production segments this is rote fare.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/164194-breathless/