THE AIR I BREATHE
US, 2007, 95 minutes, Colour.
Forrest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Andy Garcia, Emile Hirsch, Sarah Michelle Geller, Kevin Bacon, Julie Delpi, Clark Gregg.
Directed by Jeihi Lee.
Some interesting credentials, especially the cast. But…
There are four stories here, focusing on the lives (and some brief explanations from childhood) of four people whose lives and fate are interconnected. So far, so good. However, the first story, which focuses on a somewhat timid money manager, played by Forest Whitaker, who gambles on a tip and falls foul of gangsters, becomes highly melodramatic very quickly, before the air we breathe has had time to move through our system. The action at the end of this story stretches credibility.
Fortunately, in some ways, the next story slows us down to a more recognisable and acceptable pace. It is the story of a hitman who has a gift for seeing the future. He is an emotionless man who has had some influence in the life of the money manager. He is played calmly by Brendan Fraser, a man with a strange and violent calling but who lives by a code. He works for the gangster who is played in scenery-chewing mode by Andy Garcia.
The third story involves an up and coming singer, an emotionally fragile woman, played by Sarah Michelle Gellar. The gangster becomes her manager and the hitman her protector – and he becomes, as we knew he would, involved with her.
In some hospital scenes we have glimpsed a doctor, Kevin Bacon, who is the focus of the fourth story. He is desperate to find a rare blood specimen that will save the life of his scientist-friend, Julie Delpy, who has been bitten by a snake. Bacon gives an overwrought performance so that the final story – which reunites all the central characters becomes again too quickly highly melodramatic. And there are some time and continuity problems with the cross-cutting of the strands, as well as some stretches with coincidences, which leave us with some questions and puzzles rather than emotional satisfaction.
1.The impact of the story, the characters? The Asian background and the four aspects of humanity: happiness, pleasure, sorrow, love?
2.The short stories illustrating these aspects of life, the interconnection, dramatically, continuity, coincidences, credibility?
3.The drama and the melodrama? The rapid development of the first story? The heightened murder of the last story? Audiences being able to identify with the characters or not?
4.New York City, real and gritty? The musical score?
5.Happiness: the story, the child, study, the tracking shot of the various classrooms, to jobs? Unhappy? The money manager, the gangster coming in, his deposits, calm demeanour, the discussion about risks, investments? The advice of the gangster? Overhearing the workers, the tip, going to the betting shop, being persuaded to go higher with the bet, the race, the fall of the horse, complete loss? The interrogation, Fingers, his henchmen, the torture of the other man, the manager watching? Given a week to pay? Hurriedly packing, the gangster turning up, giving him the gun? The plan to rob the bank, his weak voice, getting the money, the escape, brandishing the gun, taking the bike, being hit by the car, going up to the roof, the helicopters, the police, throwing the money over the roof? His being shot?
6.Pleasure: the gangster, as a child, seeing the future, his friends, getting the job with Fingers, living by a code, emotionless? Fingers relying on him, confiding in him? The other henchman? The nephew, his arrival, the gangster looking after him, his showing off, with the girls, sex, gambling, tough with the protection racket and the old lady? The gangster and the old lady lying, catching her husband, threatening him? Fingers and his jobs? Giving the gun to the money manager?
7.Sorrow: Trista, the stage name, as a child, her ambitions, her father, becoming a star, her secretary, the tantrums, antagonism? The television interview and the hard TV questions, her wanting to walk out, her manager? The issue of her real name? Her losing her manager to Fingers, Fingers and his plan, the threats? The gangster and his hiding her, looking after her, falling in love with her? Her answering the phone, giving away the secret, trapping the gangster, his death? Her going on the road?
8.Love: the doctor, seeing him at work in the hospital, as a young boy, timid, waiting, the girl he loved? Friendship with Gina, her marrying? Gina and her husband, the discussion over the meal, the snakebite, the doctor frantic, intruding into the medicine room, seeing Trista on television, going to the theatre, causing a disturbance, seeing her at the car, the attack, the issue of her blood, her being in hospital, saving Gina’s life? Trista and her driving away in the doctor’s car, escaping, hitting the money manager, the money falling into her car, able to face a new life?
9.The portrait of characters, their interactions – how satisfying, intellectually and emotionally?