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What appears to be a random kidnapping becomes something more sinister when Secret Service Agent Jeremy Reins discovers he's being used as a pawn in a terrorist plot. Watching the clock tick down to an unknown catastrophe, Jeremy is forced by his captors to listen to the outside world on the brink of collapse, knowing that the only way to save the people he loves is to divulge a secret that he has sworn to protect.
For more about Brake and the Brake Blu-ray release, see Brake Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 26, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Stephen Dorff, Chyler Leigh, JR Bourne, Tom Berenger, Kali Rocha, Pruitt Taylor Vince
Director: Gabe Torres
» See full cast & crew
Brake Blu-ray Review
More trunk than an elephant.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 26, 2012
Between Buried, Frozen, and ATM, the single-location-meets-one-word-title thriller most definitely seems to be an indie film thing at the moment. The allure for filmmakers and financiers is obvious—cheaper productions, shorter shoots, and complete control of the set. This, however, comes with a few equally obvious caveats—the material needs to be gripping, the performances spot-on believable, and the plotting airtight.
Brake, the latest, hits two out of three, and two out of three ain't bad. The film's adrenaline-injected story plays like a feature-length Twilight Zone episode scripted by the writers of 24—think conspiratorial terrorist scheming with not one but two breakneck finale twists—and leading man Stephen Dorff nails what's essentially a ninety minute closeup with admirable intensity. In the end, it's the plot holes and oil slicks of ridiculousness that send this dramatic vehicle off the road, over the median, through oncoming traffic, and into a ditch, but hey—this still makes for one hell of a ride.
In a seeming attempt to make these sorts of films even more claustrophobic, first-time screenwriter Timothy Mannion and director Gabe Torres put Dorff not just in the trunk of a car, but also inside a tiny plexiglass cage in the trunk of a car. (What's next, a movie about a guy in a plaster body cast inside a coffin?) The Somewhere star plays Jeremy Reins, a luckless schmo who wakes up trapped in this dark confine—which is lit only by the ominous red glow of a downward-ticking digital clock—and initially surmises he's been kidnapped by a bookie to whom he owes a sizable gambling debt. If only.
Through an arm-sized tunnel that leads from the back seat of the car to Reins' cage, his silent captor slips through a postcard with a handwritten message: "Give us the location of Roulette." As it turns out, Mr. Reins is actually Agent Reins, a member of the National Security Agency's protection detail, and one of a handful of people who knows the coordinates of "Roulette"—a secret underground bunker intended to safeguard the President in the case of a national emergency. But come hell or high water—the latter literally—Reins isn't about to break the oath he swore to protect the prez. Of course, in typical diabolical terrorist style, the baddies are going to try everything they can to convince him otherwise.
This includes cigarette lighter burns, bee sting-induced anaphylactic shock—one of the film's more absurd touches—and the kidnapping of Reins' ex- wife, Molly (Chyler Leigh), who left him three months prior because of his gambling addiction. Our hero's only tie to the outside world at first is an old- fashioned CB radio that's been deliberately left in the glorified jewelry-store display case into which he's been crammed. The radio is pre-tuned to allow him to communicate with Henry Shaw (JR Bourne), a terrified State Department employee who's been similarly boxed up, but Reins also figures out how to get on the horn with a passing trucker. More helpful is when he acquires a cellphone—I'll won't say exactly how—which he uses to phone 911 and contact his work colleague Ben (Tom Berenger), who clues Reins in to the wider plot that has Washington D.C. in full-on panic mode.
For a good 80 minutes of the film's 92-minute runtime, we're squashed with Reins in the trunk as he pieces together what's happening, plots escape, and survives crashes and heavy psychological manipulation. To the credit of all involved, this is gripping, what the hell's gonna happen next stuff, amped up on the story's internal energy and making clever use of the limited space, with director Torres exploiting every possible tight angle to show Reins' pent-up-in-uncomfortable-quarters aggression. (Imagine the dammits Jack Bauer would yell if he were trapped in a trunk for a whole episode of 24.) With one brief exception, Dorff is the only character on screen for this entire stretch, and he more than effectively sells the up-and-down emotions of being the unwitting lynchpin in a terrorist conspiracy—the sneering "I'm not gonna tell you shit" confidence and the desperate pleading, the superhuman epinephrine highs and the white-hot pain.
There are some questionable script decisions in the first half of Brake, but nothing the inertia of the situation can't carry us through. The last act, though—and no spoilers here—yanks the wheel of this 100mph thriller with an I didn't see that coming turn that recontextualizes everything we've seen thus far, stretching credulity in the process. Adding insult to injury—like an airbag suddenly going off in the driver's face after the dust from a crash has settled—the film gobsmacks us with a final last-minute twist that simply beggars belief. Some might find it clever, but I suspect most will disappointedly pick their jaws off the floor and press eject. Still, it's the journey, not the destination, right?
Brake Blu-ray, Video Quality
Obviously, you'd hope that a film that's shot almost completely in tight close-ups would look good on Blu-ray, and Brake does, as long as you're watching at a normal viewing distance and not, say, watching via projector on a 150" screen. Look closely and you'll notice that the film's 1080p/AVC- encoded digital-to-digital transfer is extremely blotchy with source noise. This is partially to be expected—the inside of a trunk is a particularly low-light situation—but given that the filmmakers had complete lighting control over such a limited shooting location, you'd think they might've figured out a way to diminish the noise somewhat. The film was shot in 4K with the Red One MX camera and Zeiss lenses, but the overall level of clarity is compromised by the inherent digi-grittiness of the picture; it's easy to imagine the lines, pores, and stubble of Stephen Dorff's characteristically scruffy face looking far sharper than they do here. Like I said, though, it's not really an issue if you're watching on a small-to-medium-sized television, sitting on your couch twelve feet away. Color fares better. For visual variety, the film makes a clear effort to mix up the lighting from time to time. There are scenes lit only by a vibrant red glow, others where an almost neon greenish hue filters in from the outside, and a few where strands of lights along the edges of the plexiglass box burst on, casting everything in an intense white glow. It all looks good, with punchy contrast and deep blacks, although you may notice some blown-out highlights here and there. (There's also a rather inelegant soft-focus effect around the edge of the frame when Dorff eventually emerges into the sunlight—really, not a spoiler—but this is more of a poor post-production choice than anything else.) On the whole, the picture ain't exactly eye candy, but it looks to me like it's probably true to source.
Brake Blu-ray, Audio Quality
The challenge of Brake's sound design is to convincingly put us inside the trunk with Agent Reins, to make us hear everything he hears. To that end, the film's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is most definitely a success, building a fairly realistic soundscape from ambience and directional effects. From the start it's clear that the mix will thoughtfully utilize all 5.1 channels. Muffled voices and strange clangs emerge from the rears, bees buzz like mad, and the throttled roars of passing traffic move believably from back to front. There are gunshots and distant explosions, crashes and blown horns. I have no experience riding in the trunk of a car, but I imagine this is pretty close to what it'd sound like. Composer Brian Tyler (The Expendables) provides a pulsing score that emphasizes the onscreen action without overpowering it, and the music has plenty of presence and clarity. The subwoofer kicks in when necessary to underscore the tension of key sequences too. There are no hisses, pops, drop-outs or other audio anomalies to report, and dialogue is always cleanly recorded and easily understood. For those that need or want them, the disc includes optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles, which appear in bright yellow lettering.
Brake Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Brake Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Despite one twist too many and a few noticeable plot holes, Brake is one of the better recent entries in the suddenly popular single-location thriller genre. It's satisfyingly tense and straight-up dominated by Stephen Dorff, who—more than just surviving—thrives in his extended inside-the- trunk close-up. IFC's Blu-ray release gets the tech specs right and includes a few decent special features, making Brake a purchase-worthy consideration for fans of claustrophobic genre movies.
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