Gabe Torres – don’t be surprised if you don’t recognise the name. I didn’t know who he was until I got through Brake, an unexpectedly entertaining thriller starring Stephen Dorff.
Torres has been working in TV for decades, with most of his recent work being documentaries. The last time he was in the director’s seat for a feature movie was fifteen years ago. After I found this out, I had to ask myself “Why isn’t this guy making more feature length movies?”.
Before I started watching Brake, I flipped over the DVD cover and read the synopsis on the back. It described what sounded like a low budget James Bond movie, and it’s only after I finished watching Brake that I realised that whoever wrote it completely missed the point. Brake has more in common with the brilliantly tense Phone Booth than it does with any spy movie.
Brake opens with Secret Service Agent Jeremy Reins (Stephen Dorff) waking up in almost complete darkness. A strange red light illumates his face. The red light is cast by a clock which is counting down. He reaches out into the darkness when his hand connects with an unseen wall. He tries to get up and bangs his head against another invisible barrier. His arms and legs frantically kick out against the darkness, but they are blocked in every direction. He’s trapped.
Your first thought is probably “what the hell is going on?”. That’s exactly what I thought, and this is what makes Brake good. As a member of the audience we are immediately drawn into the Jeremy’s plight as he tries to figure out why he’s trapped, and who’s behind it. The film moves forward as small bits of information leak into Jeremy’s prison, and he tries to piece together what’s going on in the outside world.
This kind of role requires an actor with good acting skills and the ability to engage the audience since he is just about the only character in the movie. I recognised the name Stephen Dorff, but I didn’t know who he was. I looked up his profile and saw that he’d starred in Immortals, which I’d been warned to stay away from. After watching Brake, I can only assume that Immortals was not pulled down by Stephen Dorff’s acting. He delivers an engaging performance in Brake, considering how little he has to work with in this movie.
Unfortunately Brake does have a couple of problems.The first problem is that it does seem overly elaborate in places. You find yourself asking “would his captors really go through all that effort?”. The second problem is the ending – what has been an engaging thriller is let down by an ending that just tries too hard to be clever, and also makes you wonder about certain events that occurred earlier in the film.
Despite what the DVD cover and synopsis may lead you to believe, Brake is not an action thriller. If you like a thriller that stimulates your brain as much as it gets your heart racing, Brake will be right up your alley.
The Bottom Line
An exciting thriller with an interesting twist on an old concept. A good performance from an underrated actor and excellent directing from an unknown director help lift this movie above it’s few weaknesses.
About the writer
Rowan Govender, a writer and artist who is more commonly known by his pen name Rowango, graduated from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal with an Honors degree in Media in 2006. He relocated to Cape Town in 2007 to pursue his interest in writing and film. He is currently employed part time in the Technical Writing industry, while he pursues personal creative projects.