‘Brake’: A decent Stephen Dorff performance deserves better

Brake

Directed by Gabe Torres

Written by Timothy Mannion

USA, 2012

If nothing else, Gabe Torres’ thriller Brake is an excellent advertisement for movie houses. Seeing it in one’s living room, even with the lights off, just won’t capture the same sort of claustrophobic feeling as seeing it in a theater. That is not to say that Brake is a good movie, but its tightly enclosed, one-location atmosphere covers its flaws for a good long while.

A man played by Stephen Dorff awakens in a coffin-sized box with a timer counting down above him. Viewers who want to go in unspoiled may want to avoid the film’s IMDb page, which reveals considerably more about who this man is and what he’s doing there. The film itself opts to unspool this information slowly, as the camera never leaves Dorff for a minute.

If that sounds like a more high-tech twist on the recent Ryan Reynolds-starring indie Buried, it’s because that’s exactly what it is. This is not a bad thing by itself, as Buried was an innovative enough concept that it can sustain a rip-off or two. However, it doesn’t leave any room for mistakes; if Brake slips up too much, one might prefer to see the film it rips off instead, and that’s exactly the problem here.

Without spoiling too much, the problem is that Brake becomes more and more ridiculous as the kidnappers’ central plot is revealed in more and more detail. At a certain point the plot requires the kidnappers to be so omniscient that the movie stops being about Dorff trying to outwit his captors and more closely resembles torture porn. (Apparently, in addition to being master planners and electricians, these bad guys are also senseis in beekeeping.)

Dorff is game for a role that is both physically and emotionally demanding; in fact this performance compares favorably with more prestigious films like Somewhere. However the weight of his performance ultimately collapses the movie, as the final absurd twists destroy any credibility that his acting had lent to the film. In the end Brake leaves hardly any impression at all, which is far worse than a performance as difficult as this one deserves.

-Mark Young

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By Mark Young

Once upon a time, Mark Young was a film critic for a student newspaper at the University of Chicago, where his greatest accomplishment was being so late for a screening that he ran into a theater and collided with Roger Ebert. Today Mark lives and works in New York City, where he blogs reviews of films shown at his local Movie Klub. He loves to get feedback on his reviews, and the quickest way into his good graces is to reference the filmography of Jim Kelly. His first novel, THE QUESTION BLADE, is now available in the Apple iBookstore and the Kindle Store.

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