The Air I Breathe (2007): Movie Review

Shikhar Jauhari

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The Air I Breathe Movie Review: Forest Whitaker, Brendan Fraser, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and Kevin Bacon personify the four basic human emotions (Happiness, Pleasure, sorrow, and love). You can tell that Whitaker’s banker will not find conventional Pleasure when you see him betting 50 big ones on the gee-gees at Fingers’ (Andy Garcia) shady gambling lair.

It’s as if The Butterfly Effect’s sad themes and easy clichés were used here but executed with far more skill. The film takes straightforward ideas and knits them together with nuanced emotional depth. Although each character is a target of an emotional cornerstone, not all really exhibit the feeling they seek. It isn’t good to see that some of them can’t even do that. 

This makes an already harrowing story more so, providing depth to an otherwise straightforward idea. Despite a few rough patches, this is one of the most underappreciated movies of the 2000s. In addition to the fantastic story, the stellar cast delivers excellent performances. 

Jieho Lee directed and co-wrote the film, and while it has promise, it only sometimes takes off. The cast turns into solid performances, but no one is given much screen time. As a result of trying to fit too much plot into the film’s 95 minutes, the script fails to provide the necessary character growth. There isn’t a single intriguing or likable character, and the plot moves at a snail’s pace. It’s as if Lee grouped a collection of short films and grouped them, finding a loose thread to connect their stories.

The tales themselves are OK, but none are moving or engaging. Lee combines elements of a crime thriller with an all-around drama, with mixed success. Fraser’s plotline, in particular, is one of the best in the film, while the plots involving Gellar and Bacon are severely lacking. The Bacon section could be more exciting and worthwhile. However, the abruptness and rapidity of Whitaker’s narrative make it difficult to empathize with him.

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Forest Whitaker plays Happiness as a mundane office worker whose existence lacks purpose and Pleasure. He accepts a bookie loan and gambles on a losing horse after receiving a tip, but he has yet to learn what he wants. He pays dearly for his foolishness, chuckling to himself amid immense crime and sorrow.  

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Brendan Fraser plays the role of Pleasure, a hit guy with a troubled past and an intermittent sense of guilt. His boss, Andy Garcia’s gangster “Fingers,” employs him. Throughout the film, Fingers lives up to his moniker by severing (or threatening to sever) the fingers of several characters. This is only one example of the shocking brutality in the film. Even when they are overused, these acts of violence nevertheless shock the audience. Warning: not for the faint of stomach.  

Sorrow personified as Sarah Michelle Gellar. After her manager steals all of her money and “gives” Sorrow to Fingers as payment, this Britney-like pop diva finds herself at Fingers’ mercy. It takes work to report to Fingers. Even less so when she starts dating one of his men.  

Love is Kevin Bacon. After an accident puts his closest friend’s wife (Julie Delpy) in need of a blood transfusion for her extremely uncommon blood type, he would do anything to save her life.  

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These people are connected in some way, either directly or indirectly, and their actions have ripple effects throughout the story. However, the point that Korean-American Lee tries to make with this jumbled tale could be clearer. It’s bleak, gloomy, and brutal, with little hope for the protagonists. The prevailing worldview is nihilism, with significant synchronistic undertones. According to what Lee is implying, we are all the same and may find harmony with one another. In truth, in this lonely, dark world, our only hope lies in brief moments of Pleasure shared with other people.

While Whitaker’s performance is bleak yet moving, Fraser’s Pleasure is the most entertaining part of the show. Because of his character’s precognitive abilities, he is useful in bringing money to Boss Fingers. Fingers’ overzealous nephew, played by Emile Hirsch, is a riot to watch when he arrives in town intending to live it up and causes commotion at the strip clubs with his brash frat boy naiveté.

The Air I Breathe is a weak entry in a series of films in which a group of characters (played by well-known actors) are linked by chance or perverse destiny and, like Marshal Kane in High Noon, must bravely face the unknown. The story takes place in Los Angeles, and its characters include:

  • A mafia enforcer.
  • A vicious mobster.
  • A pop star.
  • An investment clerk.
  • A psychiatrist.
  • A toxicologist.

Though undoubtedly pompous and excessively stylized, The Air I Breathe is rarely boring. The likelihood of enjoying it is proportional to one’s openness to implausible visual flourishes, overlapping storylines, and a po-faced reduction of old wisdom. The characters are less interesting because they rely more on symbols than reality, and the film’s over-seriousness makes its superficiality stand out even more than in Crash. It may make you shake your head in disbelief, but it’s still an interesting anomaly that’s busy and bold enough to grab your attention.

The Air I Breathe: Movie Info

Genre: Drama, Thriller, Crime Fiction

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The Air I Breathe: Star Cast

  • Brendan Fraser: Pleasure
  • Sarah Michelle Gellar: Sorrow
  • Andy Garcia: Fingers
  • Kevin Bacon: Love
  • Julie Delpy: Gina
  • Clark Gregg: Henry
  • Emile Hirsch: Tony
  • Forest Whitaker: Happiness
  • Kelly Hu: Jiyoung
  • Evan Parke: Danny
  • Taylor Nichols: Sorrow’s Father
  • Victor Rivers: Eddie
  • Cecilia Suárez: Allison
  • Todd Stashwick: Frank
  • Jon Bernthal: Interviewer
  • William Maier: Mr. Parks (as Will Maier)
  • Eduardo Victoria: Banker #1
  • Salvador Garcia Jr.: Banker #2 (as Salvador Garcia)

The Air I Breathe: Crew

  • Emilio Diez Barroso: Producer
  • Paul Schiff: Producer
  • Darlene Caamano Loquet: Producer
  • Jose Ludlow: Co-Producer
  • Bill Johnson: Executive Producer
  • Tai Duncan: Executive Producer
  • Christopher S. Pratt: Executive Producer
  • Paul F. Bernard: Associate Producer
  • Vance Owen: Associate Producer
  • Jim Seibel: Executive Producer
  • Marcelo Zarvos: Music
  • Walt Lloyd: Cinematography     
  • Robert Hoffman: Film Editing
  • Carla Hool: Casting         
  • Mary Vernieu: Casting  
  • Bernardo Trujillo: Production Design
  • Rafael Mandujano: Art Direction                             
  • Francisca Maira: Set Decoration               
  • Michele Michel: Costume Design           

The Air I Breathe: Other Details

  • Distributor: ThinkFilm
  • Production company: Nala Films
  • Box Office (Gross USA): $19.5K
  • Running Time: 1h 37m
  • Rating: R (Violence|Some Sexual Content/Nudity|Language)
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