There are three different types of films in this world; those you enjoy, those you despise and those you just can’t place into either category.
For the most part, everyone has their own preferences with a few exceptions which are arbitrarily attached to one group (Citizen Kane in the good, the entirety of the DCU save Wonder Woman in the bad, and The Room and Manos: The Hands of Fate somehow managing to inexplicably fall into the middle category.)
Brakes, the debut film from British actor Mercedes Grower, falls firmly into the middle category too, as it struggles gamely to create a unique and quirky, multi-narrative story with a non-linear plot. It sounds convoluted, but it’s quite easy to follow along with the story when you’re watching.
The film revolves around the relationships of a wide variety of characters in London, first focussing on their endings before making a u-turn and showing the beginnings. The style itself is slightly reminiscent of Memento, albeit without any amnesia and a lot more characters. The large amount number of narratives throughout the film’s run-time keeps everything moving swiftly, yet still managing to introduce you to the characters and understand their motivations and feelings.
Many of the scenes are improvised, meaning there is a lot of pressure on the actors to perform. Some do so admirably, whilst others seem to struggle, merely repeating lines over and over again as if to simulate an argument. It’s not a big deal, and all the actors are skilled enough to allow you to gloss over these moments, but it can get a little tedious whilst you’re watching.
The main problem drawing Brakes back from being a fantastic first foray into directing for Grower is due to the relatively poor quality of the actual production. It was filmed using a handheld camera, which makes the entire affair feel as if it was shot on a boat on rough seas; likewise the first vignette sees regular continuity errors on one of the props used in the scene. Despite all this, the ropey production values do little to hurt the overall appeal of the piece, and one must assume that, were Grower’s budget bigger or she weren’t filming in such a guerrilla style, the overall quality would be vastly improved.
Possibly the strongest element of the film is the soundtrack. Using a variety of tracks, each one perfectly encapsulates the mood that is being shown on screen. The songs also ease the transition between scenes, helping to smooth the story and emotions as they leap between the cast.
Ultimately, Brakes is an incredibly ambitious project that promises a lot before falling at the last hurdle. There is plenty to love in here, from the fantastic performances, to the stories that are short, sweet and full of emotional depth. The camerawork might make you feel a little queasy if you suffer from sea-sickness, but that should not be used as an excuse to avoid watching this poignant film.
You may not end up loving it, but it will carve out a little place in your heart that will keep you thinking about the film long after the credits have rolled.
Brakes is out 24th November