Interview: Brake Director Gabe Torres 0 14

Brake interview director Gabe Torres

At the Edinburgh International Film Festival this year I managed to catch a film called Brake, a thriller starring Stephen Dorff set almost entirely inside in a see-through box (you can read my original review here).

The film is coming to DVD and Blu-ray soon (read my DVD review here) and ahead of that the director of the film, Gabe Torres, took some time out of his busy schedule to answer a few questions.

Warning: the interview contains some plot spoilers:

With Brake you had to film one actor inside a box for almost the entire movie, what challenges did that pose both from a storytelling point-of-view and a practical one?

Gabe Torres: Holding the audience’s interest is key, so in crafting the rewrites on the script and in the visual storytelling I decided to withhold information. I made it a puzzle for the audience and our main character to figure out with the limited information being given. I also never let the audience know more than our main character. This way the audience would be come personally invested in everything Jeremy did, heard or saw. They needed the information as much as he did. By taking this approach, my goal was to subliminally put the audience right in the box with Jeremy emotionally and not in a cheap way by lots of hand held POVs and such. The other tact I took was to keep the interior of the box evolving visually. Start in the red light and darkness, then reveal a little more when the car pulls out into daylight and light leaks in, then the bright lights come on and eventually bullet holes provide daylight and the electric lights flash and short out. Each visual phase mirrors Jeremy’s emotional state. Right in the beginning he’s in the dark. At the point in the story he knows nothing of where he is, he’s physically and emotionally IN THE DARK. As the engine starts and he hears the car, we see the inside of the trunk and reveal more and so on.

There was obviously an immediate comparison between Brake and the Ryan Reynolds thriller Buried. Had you seen that film before you made Brake and if so was it in your mind to try and distinguish your film from that?

GT: I never saw BURIED. Only the trailer. From what other people told me, it was gimmicky with the camera work and I saw some of that in the trailer. I tried not to let the camera work in BRAKE go there. Others describe BRAKE as an action movie in the trunk of a car, where as BURIED was more of a one man stage play in a coffin.

Do you think there can and should be lots more films set in such a confined space or would it eventually become a gimmick i.e. found footage?

GT: I think the “confined thriller” is indeed a new sub-genre. Like the “found footage” genre, the confined thriller has grown out of a new wave of low budget filmmaking that can create a big scares, action or thrills on a smaller budget. By keeping your locations down and with a limited cast you keep costs and shooting days down. The key is to have a great script and great actors. If an audience is not compelled by the characters then it will indeed be just merely a gimmick. The rise of these sub-genres is not unlike the rise of Film Noir films of the ’30s and ’40s which were smaller budgeted films at the studios which could be shot in limited locations and sets on the lot. These were done on shortened schedules and focused on sensational stories of crime and darker subjects. They made money and became classics. I hope BRAKE fares that well. 🙂

The film is the debut screenplay from Timothy Mannion. How closely involved were you with the writing of the script and how closely did you stick to what was on the written page?

GT: I received BRAKE as a first draft spec screenplay that I thought had amazing potential. I was heavily involved in doing rewrites on the script along with my co-producer Andrew Hilton who is a great writer as well. Tim’s basic structure and scenes are all there. I mostly worked on character and dialogue stuff along with fact checking and adding lots of technical dialogue through my Secret Service friends and friends who had worked in the White House. My goal in the rewrites was authenticity in what was portrayed even in the midst of a fantastic tale. The last scene in the ambulance was completely new and was not part of Tim’s original script. Andrew Hilton and I wrote that together and the core idea for the twist came from Stephen and Ryan Ross, one of our Executive Producers. We did struggle with how to end this, but this I felt was a cool twist and string way to go. People seem to love it or hate it. 🙂

Stephen Dorff does a fantastic job with a difficult role. Was he always the actor you had in mind or did it take a long time to find the right man for the job?

GT: Yes, I had always wanted to see Stephen in this role. I knew he’d knock it out of the park. And he did. BRAKE and the role of Jeremy really needed a fearless actor. We had been friends for many years and I had known Stephen since he was twelve and was close with his family. We had always wanted to find something to work on together and this seemed like a great fit.

The film slowly unravels its political themes as we learn more and more information about why Stephen’s character is being held captive in the box. Was it your intention to make any sort of political statement?

GT: No political agenda. I was just looking to make a great thriller set within the the world of terrorism, political intrigue and even a little procedural within the Secret Service.

With your extensive experience in television projects, how did making Brake differ from those?

GT: I had done several features prior to BRAKE, but TV has given me a great skill set as a director. One is the ability to think fast on set and not over think things. Keeping things moving on set kept Stephen in the mindset I needed him to be in as well as kept the energy in that box alive and visceral. We didn’t over think, over talk or overshoot.

Finally what projects are in the works for you at the moment?

GT: Starting a new film in March. A really great genre mash up. Keeping it under wraps for now. Stay tuned. 🙂

– – –

Brake is out to own on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK on October 29th.

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I'm a freelance film reviewer and blogger with over 10 years of experience writing for various different reputable online and print publications. In addition to my running, editing and writing for Thoughts On Film, I am also the film critic for The National, the newspaper that supports an independent Scotland, covering the weekly film releases, film festivals and film-related features. I have a passion for all types of cinema, and have a particular love for foreign language film, especially South Korean and Japanese cinema. Favourite films include The Big Lebowski, Pulp Fiction and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

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Movie Review: Home Again 0 213

This review was previously published at The National.

Despite an obviously talented leading lady in Reese Witherspoon and a family pedigree behind the camera in making this sort of rom-com flutter sweetly off the screen, Home Again struggles to finds its way out of cloying cliché and narrative contrivance.

This is the directorial debut of Hallie Myers-Shyer, daughter of genre stalwart Nancy Meyers (The Holiday, What Women Want). It focuses on the life of Alice Kinney (Witherspoon), a single mum who has just turned 40 and tries her best to raise her two daughters Isabel (Lola Flanery) and Rosie (Eden Grace Redfield) in Los Angeles with her job as an interior decorator.

Freshly separated from her British music mogul husband Austen (Michael Sheen), she embarks on a drunken birthday night celebration that leads to her meeting a trio of 20-something lads – Harry (Pico Alexander), George (Jon Rudnitsky) and Teddy (Nat Wolff) – who are trying their best to break into the Hollywood movie business.

The young men improbably end up staying in Alice’s guest house while they work on finishing the script for their first film. Before long they become an integral part of her life, from Alice embarking on a romantic relationship with Harry to George helping out Isabel with her school play. To quote the title of the director’s mother’s 2009 film – it’s complicated.

Except the film mistakes the kind of enjoyably frothy complexity exemplified by the best of the genre for skin-clawing convolution that renders much of the romantic and comedically-tinged drama of Alice’s life lacking in authenticity. Not that it needs the ring of truth that comes with, say, a Ken Loach picture but you need to be able to invest and believe in these characters’ lives as presented.

The approach to gender and generational relationships is simplistic which, of course, is nothing new to a genre that, at least in its Hollywoodized state, so often throws up films meant to be taken as easy-going fluff. But it’s particularly frustrating here when it squanders the potential thrown up with the initial concept of a woman trying to find herself again once she’s out of a stale relationship by entering into one with a much younger man.

It strangely seems far more interested in the plight of the three young men working as three cogs of one creative machine – director/producer, writer and actor – to get ahead in the movie business.  But even then it smacks of implausibility, like a cheap rom-com version of the bromance found in Entourage but without any of the snarky wit or Hollywood satire. Despite decent chemistry between a likeable assembled cast, Home Again is a tough pill to swallow as it rings false through and through.

3.5 out of 10

Movie Review: Goodbye Christopher Robin 0 238

This review was previously published at The National.

The world of celebrated children’s author A. A. Milne and the creation of his beloved Winnie the Pooh stories are chronicled in this frightfully polite biopic from director Simon Curtis (My Week with Marilyn) that flirts with dipping its toes into darker waters but steadfastly clings to safe tropes and always with its top button firmly fastened.

We start off in 1941 where we find an ageing Milne (Domhnall Gleeson in questionable make-up and greyed hair) and his wife Daphne (Margot Robbie) living on their secluded East Sussex farm. They receive a telegram informing them that their son, C.R. Milne, is missing presumed dead after heading off to fight in World War Two.

We then jump back in time to Milne on the front lines of the First World War. He returns from the fighting a changed man; suffering from PTSD (popped balloons evoking sudden gunfire et al.), becoming increasingly sick of just making people laugh with his West End plays and the general hustle-bustle that comes with big city life.

He convinces his reluctant wife to move to the country for some peace and quiet and where his infant son, Christopher Robin (played by Will Tilston at the younger age, Alex Lawther as he gets older), can go on the childhood adventures he deserves with the support of loving nanny Olive (Kelly Macdonald).

Settling into the kind of serene life he craves, he is inspired to create Winnie the Pooh and the rest of his soon-to-be-beloved friends inspired by the stuffed animals with which his young son has become so enamoured. Unfortunately for Christopher – referred to by everyone as “Billy Moon” – his father uses his real name in the stories, turning him into one of the most famous boys in the nation.

Despite the obvious attraction of it exploring the world famous Pooh stories, it’s a film much more interested in the effect it has on a fractured family clinging on to peacefulness, not least the unwanted attention thrust upon a young boy who simply isn’t equipped to handle it and how his parents carry on oblivious.

If anything it takes a curiously bleak outlook on what these stories mean to the world once they’ve been put out there, conveying a somewhat confusing message for a film that ultimately wants us to celebrate these stories as immortally cherished tales; that the Winnie the Pooh embraced immediately by the public and has now stood the test of time for almost a century is in some way missing the point of what it truly means to the author and a son who, inadvertently or not, was used as a tool of innocence to sell the idea of an idyllic childhood in Milne’s Hundred Acre Wood.

It’s bolstered by almost uniformly moving performances; Gleeson plays Milne with a kind of damaged empathy that makes you feel like you get to know the author beyond the public persona. Macdonald is oftentimes heart-breaking as Christopher’s devoted caregiver and Tilston walks away with the film as the adorably sweet-natured young Christopher. It’s only with Robbie that the film makes a misstep; she’s miscast as Milne’s wife and never stepping out of the shadow of cold motherly cliché.

In spite of its darker leanings, the film remains too buttoned up to properly wrestle with those themes in any sort of lasting way, far too polite to ever dive head first into the murky waters into which the drama intermittently peers.

Wrapped in Ben Smithard’s handsomely old-fashioned cinematography and soaked in Carter Burwell’s perpetually swelling score, it’s an aesthetically and emotionally appealing but nevertheless fairly vanilla period biopic best suited to being enjoyed on a rainy Sunday afternoon with tea and biscuits.

6.5 out of 10