| March 22, 2012

Claustrophobia is a fear we all have. Human beings love being able to move about and frolic. In fact, I love it so much that even riding a crowded train can become a painful experience. So it’s surprising that the thought of being trapped inside a box has never crossed my mind. That is to say, it didn’t before I watched director Gabe Torres’ latest film, Brake.

The coffer holding Secret Service Agent Jeremy Reins (Stephen Dorff) captive is a representation of all our primal aversions. After being kidnapped from New York, he wakes up stowed away in the truck of a car. His dimly-lit glass casket is complete with nothing but an old radio receiver and a countdown clock. It’s there that he must endure intense mental and physical torture—everything ranging from a swarm of flies to gunshots and nearly drowning—to protect the location of a series of underground bunkers from radicals. Codenamed “The Roulette,” it serves to protect the president and his family in the event of a terrorist attack.

For those thinking about Buried, another film utilizing the “grave danger” concept, Brake was shot beforehand. And whilst Paul Conroy’s—the protagonist in Rodrigo Cortés’ interpretation (who, as some may remember, was played by Ryan Reynolds)—sole purpose was to escape, Reins is a more selfless lead. Even when faced with life-or-death consequences, he refuses to hand over the information wanted of him. Even if he harms the people around him—most notably, his ex-wife—the character keeps the Cheese alive. Jeremy’s commitment to his oath makes him a reliable action hero. There’s definitely room for both movies and it’s interesting to see how they both contrast.

In fact, what further separates the two is that Torres and his screenwriter, Timothy Mannion, ride almost entirely on interspersed adrenaline rushes. Frequently, the filmmakers task their headliner with making inconsistencies and continuity errors unnoticeable. For the most part, he does just that. However, as talented as the actor may be, he can’t make up for the dry spells in between the intense action. During these quieter moments, the puzzling lack of a police response and strange coincidences become incredibly distracting.

But ultimately, Torres excels in creating a gripping atmosphere. He builds upon each scene. While answering a phone call is the highlight of the first sequence, Reins must later tend to gaping wounds and move around the casket. In spite of there not being much gore, the suspense element—inspired, ironically, by the Saw series—keeps Brake entertaining.

Plus Dorff commands the screen. Like Reynolds, he carries the film and shuffles through every emotion in the book, from dumb confidence to desperation. However, it’s his co-stars—a series of (mostly) unknown voice actors—that fail to impress. Some of the more renowned performers include the Oscar-nominated Tom Berenger, Grey’s Anatomy star Chyler Leigh, and B-actor JR Bourne. Yet even with their past experience, these thespians make barely make the most banal dialogue sound authentic.

To top it off, the ending is hardly believable. Adding insult to injury, the filmmakers drop the ball not once, but twice. They crash past one conclusion to another far less satisfying resolution. It’s fortunate that Torres pushes the brakes before completely burning out.

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