Friday May 1, 1998
Stephen Rea) is in the visitor's room telling his lover that she should give up on him when all of a sudden a fellow prisoner whispers to him that a mass breakout is about to be set in motion. "Take your time to think it over," says his friend. "You've got a minute-and-a-half."
Deciding to join in, Dowd plunges into a new life--or is it so new, after all? Instead of life underground in Northern Ireland, he decides to try his luck in New York.
A loner by nature and appreciative of his newfound freedom, Dowd is grateful to live in a seedy hotel and work as a restaurant dishwasher. But when an older woman, also a hotel resident, begs him to come to the rescue of a woman, attacked by her lover (or pimp), screaming for help, Dowd reluctantly steps in and handles the attacker with dispatch. Outraged that he should bloody her attacker's "beautiful face," the woman knifes Dowd in the ribs.
As an escaped convict, Dowd dare not try to get help but is ultimately discovered by a restaurant co-worker Tulio (Alfred Molina), a kindly Guatemalan refugee who saves his life, sending a hospital orderly (Pruitt Taylor Vince) to tend to the wound. Dowd regains his strength in the comfort and security of the apartment Tulio shares with his sister Monica (Rosana Pastor), who works as a hotel charwoman.
Dowd is smitten with Monica and also becomes caught up in the brother and sister's plan to execute a particularly brutal Guatemalan colonel, now living in exile in suburban New York.
Having worked all over the world in a notably wide variety of films, Dornhelm is the ideal director to express the dislocation of the foreigner, and his film, so stunningly shot by Andrzej Sekula, and equally well-designed by Kalina Ivanov and Tom McCullagh, is especially good at suggesting how a cozy apartment or a hearty Irish bar can seem a refuge, if only temporarily, in a cold and dangerous universe.
"The Break" also benefits from Harald Kloser and Shaun Davey's gentle, keening score.
Born in Romania, then moving to Vienna with his parents at age 13, Dornhelm first came to attention with his Oscar-nominated "The Children of Theater Street," about the young students of the Kirov Ballet. More recently, he returned to Romania to make "Requiem for Dominic," a masterful, elegiac expose of the brutal Ceausescu regime.
With his worn, sensitive expression, Rea is perfectly cast as an essentially passive man whose life keeps being turned upside down when he tries to do what he thinks is the right thing. "The Break" is an intensely fatalistic film, and Rea, who supplied the idea for Ronan Bennett's script, is just the actor to portray a man stalked by danger and doom.
He is well-matched by the endlessly versatile Molina and the impassioned Pastor, so memorable in Ken Loach's recent "Land and Freedom." The plot description of "The Break" makes the film sound contrived.
In actuality, it is a beautifully expressed story of a man caught up in the remorseless workings of destiny.
The Break, 1998. R, for violence, language and some sexuality. A Castle Hill Productions presentation. Director Robert Dornhelm. Producer Chris Curling. Executive producers David Aukin (for Channel 4), Ulrich Felsberg (for Road Movies), Od Stoneman (for Bord Scannan) and Michiyo Yoshizaki (for NFD International). Screenplay by Ronan Bennett; based on an idea by Stephen Rea. Cinematographer Andrzej Sekula. Editor Masahiro Hirakubo. Costumes Stephanie Maslansky and Maggie Donnelly. Music Harald Kloser and Shaun Davey. Production designers Kalina Ivanov and Tom McCullagh. Art director and set decorator Anna Rackard. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes. Stephen Rea as Dowd. Alfred Molina as Tulio. Rosana Pastor as Monica. Brendan Gleeson as Richard.