The Air I Breathe

Rating 2¾

Directed by Jieho Lee

Written by Jieho Lee and Bob DeRosa

Starring Forest Whitaker, Brendon Fraser,
Sarah Michelle Gellar, Kevin Bacon, Andy Garcia, Emily Hirsch and Julie Delpy

First time director Jieho Lee made this film in Mexico City, although the setting is not important, since it seems to be doubling for a characterless and unnamed American city. That’s a pity. The setting might have added another layer to the story. Based on an ancient Chinese proverb, it tells the interweaving story of four characters, who individually represent happiness, pleasure, sorrow and love.

Forest Whitaker is the unremarkable office worker who gambles with his very life in search of happiness. Brendon Fraser is the henchman of a ruthless local crime boss (Andy Garcia) who begins to question his own actions and morality. His quasi-mystical gift, allowing him brief flashes of the future, is also his curse. He is pleasure and Sarah Michelle Gellar is sorrow, playing a temperamental pop star who is empty inside. Kevin Bacon’s character is a hospital doctor who seeks love, but also shies away from it.

The film unfolds in four interconnected segments. This does mean the story of each character is told in quite a short timeframe (about 25 minutes per segment). The final part in particular, concentrating on Kevin Bacon’s character, seems very rushed and underdeveloped, but the same could be said of all four characters, Brendon Fraser’s mobster perhaps excepted.

Some aspects of the story don’t quite succeed. Pleasure and Sorrow are immediately drawn to one another and we learn that they share a similar tragedy in their childhoods, seen via flashbacks. This is perhaps not explored as well as it might have been and flashbacks do tend to inhabit a fine line between being inventive and trite.

The crime boss is searching for Sorrow, but, despite his obsession, when she is in hospital he doesn’t bother to have one of his men watch her. When she winds up back in hospital, in circumstances that would be guaranteed to attract the attention of the media in these celebrity-obsessed times, he is seemingly entirely unaware of her whereabouts.

The film is well made and, as might be expected from this cast, it is well acted. Brendon Fraser, I think, is probably the pick of the bunch. The message, if there really is one, seems to be that, to quote a Neil Young song lyric, “It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Or maybe it’s telling us that happiness, pleasure, sorrow and love are more than skin deep.

It isn’t a great film, certainly not one destined to be remembered in years to come, but it’s worth watching at least once. It doesn't cover any new ground, but the appalling reviews that announced its brief American cinema run are somewhat mystifying.

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