For most of its running time, “Brake” is a near perfect thriller. It has a great concept, a strong leading man and fine direction. Then a twist occurs. And this first twist is perfectly fine. In fact, it gives us about as good an ending as the writer could’ve delivered.
Then another twist happens. Yes. A twist on top of a twist. Why? I don’t know. Perhaps screenwriter Timothy Mannion was having an M. Night Shyamalan marathon when he put the final touches on the script. This final twist not only robs the film of its logic, story and message, but it’s like a bullet through the brain of the entire production.
Some may object. Others will say the final few moments are incredibly clever, and that is no doubt what director Gabe Torres, actor/ executive producer Stephen Dorff and Mannion thought when they were shooting the film.
If you plan on watching “Brake” heed this warning: if you find yourself incredibly satisfied with the film after the first twist occurs (you’ll know when) then turn “Brake” off and go to bed believing that you were witness to a near perfect thriller. After all, ignorance is bliss, right? Right?
“Brake” takes place almost entirely inside the trunk of a car. Our protagonist is Jeremy Reins (a perfectly cast Dorff) who may or may not know the whereabouts of “roulette,” which is apparently a location the president is taken to in case of an emergency that only a handful of people know about. The location changes everyday, hence the name.
Obviously, Mannion has come up with a cool concept that can lead to some great thrills if treated properly. But he takes the extra step and actually provides what seems like a tremendous script. The film is never predictable, and while the main character suffers a great deal there is a solid story with some impressive layers thrown in.
Jeremy is in a glass (or plastic) case inside of a trunk. He has a radio where he can sometimes communicate with others in the same situation. He’s also a gambling addict with a wife who may be in danger. And he’s also a damn patriot ’til the bitter end. More on that later. Mannion works with these elements (including a bit of torture) perfectly.
The man may have taken a script writing class or two, or maybe he’s just seen some great movies and learned what he needed from them.
The other component the film should be congratulated on is that it never cheats its concept. There are no flashbacks thrown in or scenes of the bad guys being menacing. Mannion manages to craft an entirely engaging script with almost one setting.
Torres also deserves acclaim along with his cinematographer James Mathers. This one setting is used to its full capability. Torres doesn’t ever turn into Tony Scott or Michael Bay and attempt to create thrills with solely the movement or saturation of his camera. He manages to make his direction clear, fast and quite brutal. This man will definitely go on to direct some great thrillers because if this is what he can do with one setting, I can’t imagine what he might pull off with a handful.
Finally, there is Dorff. It’s a shame that performances like these go almost entirely unnoticed come awards season. Instead, everyone stands in awe over whatever new George Clooney or Brad Pitt film, waiting to inevitably sweep the Oscars, is out. Dorff is perfect in “Brake.” The camera never leaves him, and he rises to the challenge. He creates a character we want to root for and makes everything feel so much more real in this low-budget effort. He’s one of the best and most underrated working today and you can put a performance like the one in “Brake” against “Moneyball” or “The Descendents” and it’s clear who the winner is.
Clearly, I’m a bit of a fan boy for the film, but I still can’t give it a whole-hearted recommendation. If the film had ended five minutes earlier then it would’ve had a great patriotic message (something I know you readers want) along with a great resolution for both audiences and the film’s hero.
Alas, the all too clever filmmakers couldn’t resist showing one last detail. “Brake” could’ve been great. It almost is.
Sucker Punches: None. In fact, if you turn the film off about five minutes before it ends then you will have a pretty conservative film with a message that patriotism trumps all.
“Brake” is available both via Video on Demand services as well as movie theaters nationwide.