Simon Baker, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence in a scene from Breath.
Simon Baker, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence in a scene from Breath. Supplied

MOVIE REVIEW: Tim Winton novel becomes Baker's delight

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.

A scene from the movie Breath.
A scene from the movie Breath. Nic Duncan

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.

Simon Baker, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence in a scene from Breath.
Simon Baker, Samson Coulter and Ben Spence in a scene from Breath. Supplied

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 is Baker’s directorial debut. David Dare Parker
Breath is Baker’s directorial debut. David Dare Parker

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 on Thursday.


Stars: Elizabeth Debicki, Simon Baker, Richard Roxburgh, Rachael Blake, Samson Coulter Ben Spence.

Director: Simon Baker

Rating: M

Verdict: 5 stars