Quick Thoughts on Brake
Director: Gabe Torres
Cast: Stephen Dorff, Chyler Leigh, JR Bourne, Tom Berenger
Brake is an effectively claustrophobic thriller about a man trapped in the trunk of a police car. About 95% of the film takes place within confines of the trunk, and that portion of the film is gripping. The other 5% details what happens when the man is set free. That portion of the film is insulting. It takes a special kind of bad ending to ruin what is otherwise a good film, but that's just what happens in Brake. When the movie finally reaches its destination point, it's hard to imagine anyone walking away happy with what they've seen.
And yet, it all starts off so swimmingly. Stephen Dorff plays Jeremy Reins, a Secret Service agent who has been kidnapped by terrorists and locked in a plastic box in the trunk of a car. Apparently, they're trying to extract information out of him about something called Roulette, which is a hiding place the president would be taken to in the event of a terrorist attack. Refusing to give any information, and with no one to communicate with save for a man named Henry (JR Bourne) on an old CB radio (it turns out Henry is also trapped in the trunk of a car), Jeremy has to try and find a way out of his situation before the terrorists go after his wife Molly (Chyler Leigh) and use her as collateral.
Director Gabe Torres certainly knows how to elicit a feeling of claustrophobia. There are long stretches of scenes that are lit solely by a red digital read out that counts down to Jeremy's next form of physical torture (at one point, the box he's locked in fills up with bees), and the many tight angles used in the film give it an incredibly immersive feel. Stephen Dorff turns in a committed performance as Jeremy, making us feel every ounce of sadness and panic his characters endures over the course of the film. He carries the movie splendidly (he has a particularly strong scene where he has to tell Henry that he will refuse to give any information, and thus won't be able to save his family), which makes it all the more depressing when Timothy Mannion's screenplay lets him down in the end.
And it lets him down. Boy, does it ever. Dorff is a talented actor, and remains watchable from the opening frame right up to the closing shot. Yet as good as he is here, even he isn't enough to forgive the film for what it does in its final moments. The film concludes with two twists, the first is over-the-top but makes some sense given everything that came before. The final scene is not so honest, and leaves way too many questions unanswered. Had they left that scene out, or chose to go with the initial twist, I might have given the film a three star rating. But given the ordeal the movie puts us through, we in the audience have to know that there's a worthwhile destination to justify the experience, and Brake fails to supply us with one. It's one of those films that thinks it much more clever than it really is, and ruins a perfectly engaging story with a “gotcha” twist it just didn't earn.
Final Grade: ** 1/2 (out of ****)