Sunday, March 29, 2009

Review: The Air I Breathe

The Air I Breathe
Released: January 25, 2008 (US, Limited), April 2, 2008 (RP)
Rating: ♥♥♥♥
[official website] [wiki] [imdb]

There are some movies that you need to see at least twice before you can form a valid opinion. I remember when I first saw Y Tu Mamá También, I felt disgusted and I immediately dismissed it as soft-core porn disguised as a quirky Mexican movie. When I saw it about two or three more times, I understood the complexities of the storyline and saw that behind all the nudity there was indeed a story to be told.

I first saw The Air I Breathe about a week ago and as I sat in front of my laptop to write about it, I could not find the words to really say much about it. I just finished watching it again and I think I now have enough words to tell you why I liked it.

The Air I Breathe is the story of four people who seemingly live unrelated lives but are actually connected in some way. None of their real names are used throughout the movie. They are only known as the emotion that they portrayed. The movie is pretty graphic and I suppose that's why I had difficulties expressing myself after.

Forest Whitaker played Happiness- a black man caught in a rut from childhood to adulthood. He starts to question the meaning of his life. His search for happiness seems to have reached a dead end. He is told that there are times when risking everything is the only choice you have- and risk he does. He bets an insane amount of money for a horse he has barely seen. He loses- massively- and is forced to rob a bank to pay off his debt. Although a lot of the scenes in this movie may seem surreal, you should know that there is still a very precise idea of right and wrong and so Happiness, who has been unhappy for the most part of the movie finally finds bliss as he is shot down by the cops.

Brendan Fraser played Pleasure, a gangster with the ability to see into the future. Because of his special gift, he no longer feels pleasure in life. What’s the use of reading a book when you know how the story ends, right? When his visions finally fail him in the form of a woman whose future he cannot see, he finally experiences pleasure and life just as everybody else experiences it. I must say I have a newfound respect for this guy. I’m used to seeing him in such commercial roles and so once he is stripped of all the fanfare and hype, he’s actually a pretty good actor. Note to self- see Crash soon.

Sarah Michelle Gellar played Sorrow, a pop singer named “Trista” with a unique blood type. I’ve never been a fan of Sarah’s so I must say that the fact that I really liked her in this movie means a lot. As Trista, she is quite sheltered and has never really experienced sorrow. Her manager seriously screws up and is forced to pay off a gambling debt with her contract. In this new world of guns and violence, she meets Pleasure. Not until she loses him in a very emotionally charged scene does she experience sorrow. As he lay dying in her arms, his only request is to know her real name. She whispers it into his ear and he dies right there. It was a screwed up scene that would move even the thugliest thug.

Kevin Bacon played Love, the epitome of unrequited love. He is a doctor in love with his best friend’s wife (Julie Delpy). When the girl is bitten by a poisonous snake, he is forced to move heaven and hell to source her unique blood type. He stalks Trista and. after several complicated layers of the story, talks her out of commiting suicide. Everybody’s happy.

In the middle of the whole movie is Fingers played by Andy Garcia. He was in his element in this film as a gambling lord-slash-manager wannabe-slash-thug. He ties the whole story and all the characters together. Emile Hirsch (who was brilliant in The Girl Next Door and Sean Penn's Into The Wild) embraces stereotype as Tony, Fingers' annoying nephew who is in town to see the family business.

The movie is very well written. I was actually surprised that the writer and director (Jieho Lee) was relatively new in the business. There are a lot of good quotes from it. Here are a few:

"I always wondered, when a butterfly leaves the safety of its cocoon, does it realize how beautiful it has become? Or does it still just see itself as a caterpillar?"

"When I was a kid, I knew the secret to a happy life. Play by the rules, work hard in school. And if you work hard in school, then your reward is... more school. And after more school, then you're given the best life has to offer. A job, and money, and a future. Filled with unending, singular pursuit, for more."

"Sometimes the things you can't change end up changing you."

"When you can see the future, you think you're capable of changing it. But you're just a witness to coming moments, unable to help, even if you wanted to and maybe you don't. Sometimes you think you're supposed to learn something, about patience or distance, but in the end it's all about discipline."

"Sometimes being totally fucked can be a liberating experience."

Generally, the people who saw this film did not like it. There’s a lot of violence and the plot’s a little farfetched so I understand where they’re coming from. All I can say is the story was pretty unique and the actors were all in top form. I was surprised to see Sarah Michelle Gellar in a movie that I sincerely liked. It’s no wonder that despite hating the film, a lot of critics acknowledged her for her role in it.

My take-away from this movie: everyone’s connected and everyone’s looking for something. Just when you think you have someone figured out, life has a way of surprising you. All-in-all, it’s a huge emotional roller coaster that I thoroughly enjoyed. I’m looking forward to seeing it again sometime soon (once I’ve gotten over the last screening) just to see what new insights I can get. A solid 4/5.