Gabe Torres’s Brake is the kind of film that Buried was trying to be just a couple of years ago. They both want to be single-location, highly-suspenseful one-man shows that take the audience on a wild ride, and yet, neither film is completely successful at accomplishing this. Buried didn’t work all that well because it simply didn’t have that much suspense to it. Brake doesn’t really have that problem, but there are certain issues that it has, particularly in its ending, that stop it from being as strong as it might have been.
Jeremy Reins (Stephen Dorff) awakens to find himself enclosed in a glass box in an unknown location. All he can see in front of him is a clock counting down over and over. The only item in the box is an old CB radio that he uses to talk to another man in the same situation as he is. We soon learn that Jeremy is a member of the secret service and that the box he is being held in is in the trunk of a car being driven by a member of a terrorist group who are attacking Washington D.C. They have taken Jeremy hostage in order to learn the location of “Roulette,” a bunker that the President is taken to when in danger. With only the radio and his sense of duty, he must resist everything that the terrorist threatens him with, including doing harm to his captured wife.
Once again we have a film shot (almost) entirely in one location that hinges upon there being plenty of suspense and a compelling performance from the lead. Brake does contain quite a bit of suspense with all of its twists and turns. It leaves us in the dark, quite literally, for quite a while, not letting us know what’s going on, which puts us right there with Jeremy as he tries to figure out just what the terrorists are doing.
Also upping the suspense is the mystery surrounding the characters we don’t see. Jeremy uses the CB radio to keep in touch with Henry (JR Bourne), who claims to work for the government and who’s being held captive, as is his family, until Jeremy tells the terrorists what they want to know. But how can Jeremy trust someone he’s only ever talked to on a radio, especially in such a tense situation?
However, even with all of this going on, the film begins to feel stretched out after a while despite only running about 90 minutes. The second half has Jeremy getting ahold of a cell phone in an incredibly convenient manner, which leads to multiple phone calls for the remainder of the film. This leads up to what is the film’s biggest weakness: a pair of endings that, when combined, become incredibly silly and nonsensical.
The first ending is one that you can see coming from a mile away, but at the very least, it’s a logical ending to the film, and would have been fine if the screenwriter, Timothy Mannion, had decided to leave it there. However, he chose to throw in one more surprise that throws logic out the window and leaves the film with several unanswered questions as to how it was supposed to work in the context of the first ending. This is Mannion’s first screenplay and he’s not that bad of a writer. He just needs to learn to quit while he’s ahead.
Helping to keep the film engaging is the strong performance of Stephen Dorff, who isn’t exactly known for choosing good projects, having lately starred in Immortals, Bucky Larson, and Somewhere. With Brake, he does a good job of pouring all of the anger, fear, frustration, and desperation into the character. When your film is only going to have one actor on screen for the vast majority of it, you need to make sure that that actor is up to the task of keeping the audience interested, which is something that Dorff does rather well.
For a film like this, it must be really hard to come up with something that ends up being satisfying as a whole. When a writer chooses a minimalist plot, there are usually only a few options as to the way it can turn out. It ended up hurting Buried because there was only one of two ways it could go, and once you ruled out the option that was too obvious, you were left with just one. Brake could have gone a few more directions, but Mannion also decided to go with something obvious and then ludicrous instead of trying to surprise us in a good way. Most of it is a decent film despite it being stretched out, but most of it being good just doesn’t cut it.