Simon Baker's film adaptation of Tim Winton's award winning Australian novel Breath is a couple of hours well spent. Baker and Winton shared scriptwriting with Gerard Lee. Tim is also the adult voice of schoolboy Pikelet (Samson Coulter).
Samson and fellow first-timer Ben Spence fill their contrasting roles like veterans. Coulter's performance as a sensitive and troubled teen stands out. Spence certainly does justice to his in-your-face, reckless character Loonie.
The grownups do a pretty professional job too. Simon Baker gives a fairly reserved performance as Sando, an ageing surfie with a pro-surfing past. He looks the part but does not deliver the emotional range to really develop the character as we might want. He uses a middle class accent laced with some genuine Aussie: 'You wouldn't be dead for quids', 'Wonder what the ordinary people are doing?' It was customarily "poor people" so that's a deliberate thematic twist. Apparently, Baker has a surfing background from his youth on the East coast.
Elizabeth Debicki brings more depth as the damaged, brooding Eva. Richard Roxburgh is solid as Pikelet's father, with Baker using understated visual cues rather than dialogue to flesh out his role.
Set in the 1970s, the film was shot in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia, the area where Winton spent his teenage years. It's best experienced in a cinema, not just for Rick Rifici's stunning surfing sequences but also for Marden Dean's classy cinematography.
Friendship is the central element of this coming-of-age story. It opens with Loonie daring his mate Pikelet to take foolish risks. When Sando takes the boys under his surfing wing, he challenges them to "go for it", to confront their fears by tackling increasingly dangerous waves. He urges Pikelet to reach out beyond the ordinary, to "surrender" to the moment. That's also good advice for the audience.
Overall, Simon Baker should be pleased with his debut as director.