Th!nkFilm // 2008 // 95 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Franck Tabouring (Retired) // May 30th, 2008
Sometimes the things we can't change...
...end up changing us.
Essentially, Jieho Lee's directorial debut, The Air I Breathe, centers on four individuals whose desperations will eventually cause their lives to intersect. Their names are never revealed, and the audience only knows them as Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow, and Love, which, according to a Chinese proverb, designate the four cornerstones of life.
Forest Whitaker plays Happiness, a depressed accountant who decides to rob a bank after betting too much money on a horse race. Brendan Fraser stars as Pleasure, a hit man who has the ability to look into the future and wishes he could quit the business. Then there's Sarah Michelle Gellar's Sorrow, a successful pop star who falls victim to ruthless crime boss Fingers, played by Andy Garcia. Last but not least, Kevin Bacon shows up as Love, a doctor who has twenty-four hours to save the love of his life.
So far so good, but what is this flick really about? In a nutshell, the main storyline tells us life can be a sucker. I know that's not exactly compelling or enlightening, but that's pretty much what it all comes down to in the end. Unfortunately, the road to the moral of the movie is not as exciting as it may originally seem. Lee's flick is divided into four parts, each focusing on one of the main characters' so-called downfall. Throughout the plot, some of these characters accidentally bump into each other, trying everything in their power to put an end to their miseries and find the happiness they so passionately desire. That's pretty much all there is to say about the story, because if there's one thing missing in The Air I Breathe, it's depth.
If you have already seen Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu's masterpieces Amores Perros and 21 Grams, chances are you won't necessarily be fascinated by Lee's first directorial effort. The concept of random accidents bringing together several characters throughout a movie is not exactly new, and Lee and his co-writer Bob DeRosa offer us nothing remotely captivating or worth thinking about in greater detail. Most of what goes down in the film is just pointless, primarily because the script is as shallow as it can get. The film obviously takes itself seriously and obviously tries to teach its audiences something about life, but all it does in the end is follow a bunch of superficial characters seeking happiness and finding out the hard way that you can't always get what you want. There's absolutely nothing wrong with exploring such a thematic in a feature film, but this experiment doesn't have much innovative material in store for us.
I also found it impossible to connect with the main characters, because all they do is deliver overdone, pseudo-philosophical dialogue. Some of it even sounds poetic at times, but I am convinced it would work a lot better exclusively on paper. Most of these silly lines come from Brendan Fraser, and here is just one example to illustrate my point: "The girl with the future I can't see enters my life. On the same day, my visions fail me for the first time." The characters themselves are pretty empty, making it really hard for viewers to care for them. Unfortunately, some of them also make some of the stupidest decisions imaginable, which easily explains why they end up slipping into misery. Of course, if they actually engaged in more realistic behavior, then there would be no film, right?
Paradoxical as it is, the film also features an A-list cast delivering mostly weak performances. In my opinion, Garcia's performance is the most disappointing one. He only does what he usually does, and he certainly played a better bad guy in Ocean's Eleven and its sequels. Julie Delpy and Whitaker have too much of a short appearance to convince, and Brendan Fraser, though a bit better, falls victim to his incredibly shallow character. And what is up with Sarah Michelle Gellar, jumping yet again into the role of a messed-up starlet? I definitely liked her and her crazy character in Richard Kelly's Southland Tales, but here she really fails to keep herself afloat. Emile Hirsch does well despite his short onscreen time, and Kevin Bacon is definitely my favorite this time, although he's not onscreen enough, either; at least he shows emotions.
The video transfer is fine and the dark look of the film goes well with the dark atmosphere of the entire film, but I encountered some trouble with the audio transfer. The music and sound effects (including the action sequences) always seemed to be a lot louder than the dialogue, causing me to adjust and readjust the volume on my TV more than once. Maybe it was just my system that messed up this time, but I usually do not encounter such troubles.
Special features on the disc include some mediocre outtakes, four deleted scenes, a trailer, and a decent feature commentary with director Jieho Lee, co-writer Bob DeRosa, director of photography Walt Lloyd, and editor Robert Hoffman. Having four people comment on a film can be chaotic, but they manage this fairly well by giving each other enough time to speak up. Of course this causes the commentary to move along slowly with plenty of breaks of silence, but it's worth listening to if you like the film more than I did. It's certainly not a fully energetic commentary, but for a first time, Lee and Company do an acceptable job.
The Air I Breathe is not necessarily a total disaster, but it's not a strong enough film to win me over. Of course you have to consider the fact that this is a first film, and I certainly congratulate Lee for getting his project into theaters on DVD. But as I always say in this case, writing a solid script only requires a pen, paper, and great ideas. Sadly enough, these are lacking here. Better luck next time.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Surround (English)
Running Time: 95 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Filmmakers' Commentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Theatrical Trailer
* Official Site