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The Air I Breathe (A Movie Review)

Updated: Nov 29, 2022

The Air I Breathe

The Air I Breathe


Starring Kevin Bacon, Forest Whitaker, Andy Garcia, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Brendan Fraser, Julie Delpy, Emile Hirsch, Clark Gregg, Kelly Hu, Taylor Nichols, Celia Suarez, Jon Bernthal and John Cho.

Screenplay by Jieho Lee and Bob DeRosa.

Directed by Jieho Lee.

Distributed by THINKFilm.  95 minutes.  Rated R.

The Air I Breathe is trying to be a really profound look at life and death on the mean streets, but it never quite escapes a desperate air of Tarantino-lite.

You recognize that need for deepness immediately in this film of four interlocking vignettes.  The main characters are ironically named after emotions in a Chinese proverb – Happiness, Pleasure, Sorrow and Love.  (Ugh, yeah I know, can we say pretentious?)

The first story is that of Happiness (Forest Whitaker), a repressed stockbroker who hates his boring job and life.  He sees a chance out of his torpor when he overhears a co-worker discussing a fixed horse race.  He goes down to a seedy bookie joint and bets way more than he can afford – and loses.  He is threatened by Fingers (Andy Garcia) the tough gangster who owns the joint.  Out of desperation he decides to rob a bank to make the money – and in trying to evade the police finally finds the excitement he has been craving.

The second vignette is about Finger’s chief leg-breaker, Pleasure (Brendan Fraser).  Pleasure has been able to get quick glimpses of the future since he was a child, which has made him able to win any fight he is in.  However, he also sees it as a curse – by seeing the future he is beholden to it.  Therefore he has deadened himself to all emotions, because he feels that life is inevitable and he can’t do anything to change it.  When Fingers’ ne’er-do-well nephew (Emile Hirsch) comes to visit, Fingers asks him to take him out and show him the ropes.  The kid is a loose cannon and Pleasure spends most of the night keeping him out of trouble.  Then, for the first time in his life, Pleasure’s power fails him, putting him in danger at the same time as it releases him from the responsibility of always knowing what is coming.

Pleasure also plays a significant role in the third tale, that of Sorrow (Sarah Michelle Gellar).  Sorrow is a rising pop star who is miserable in the spotlight.  When her manager gets deeply into debt with Fingers, he signs away the rights to the singer to the gangster.  She tries to escape the clutches of the mobster, and ends up losing the man she loves as she tries to gain her freedom.

Finally there is Love (Kevin Bacon), a doctor who has been enamored with the same woman since Med School, a research scientist (Julie Delpy).  The problem is, she is married to his best friend (Clark Gregg).  When she is in danger of dying after being bitten by a venomous snake, Love will do anything in his power to get a transfusion of the scientist’s extremely rare blood type.

There is a lot of good intention and love brought to the filming of The Air That I Breathe – and I do know this for a fact, I am friends with one of the significant crew members who made the film – so you want to give the film the benefit of the doubt.

The Air That I Breathe has very some good moments and some surprisingly strong acting – Fraser’s emotionally cut-off enforcer is particularly good.  It has some really moody visuals and some legitimately shocking twists.  However, it relies just too much on unlikely coincidences and stupid mistakes to completely buy into.  I know that was probably the point that first-time director Jieho Lee was trying to get across – that in the end life is nothing but a series of random and tragic circumstances.  This may even be true, but it doesn’t necessarily make for satisfying storytelling.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2008  All rights reserved.  Posted: July 19, 2008.

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