Review: ‘Lifebreath’

A solid, thoughtful little thriller with some moral substance behind its clever plot twists, "Lifebreath" could help raise Luke Perry's theatrical profile before heading on to a healthy stay on cable and tape.

A solid, thoughtful little thriller with some moral substance behind its clever plot twists, “Lifebreath” could help raise Luke Perry’s theatrical profile before heading on to a healthy stay on cable and tape.

Perry toplines, very effectively, as Martin Devoe, a Manhattan schoolteacher who finds there’s little he can do as his pretty, talented wife, Chrystie (Francie Swift), deteriorates from the effects of cystic fibrosis.

Most alarmingly, her lungs keep filling with fluid — something that could be alleviated with a transplant, should a donor be found. As if that chance weren’t small enough, she also has a rare blood type.

Chrystie’s CF support group offers little hope, but Martin is not inclined to accept their resignation. In the guise of volunteering at the local blood bank, he uses his computer prowess to prowl through the New York City database, looking for AB blood-type candidates and asking them to come in and give their precious bodily fluids — and possibly more.

It’s at this point that the pic’s thriller instincts emerge, as first-time writer-helmer P.J. Posner ingeniously mixes secondary info about CF (including some queasy-making discussions of the trade in illegal organs) with the ethical and emotional dilemma our iffy hero faces when he considers stepping outside of normal medical channels.

Things also heat up when the potential donor turns out to be an attractive real estate agent — played by Gia Carides, unrecognizable from her “Strictly Ballroom” lead — with a penchant for fooling around on her clients’ premises. This steamy development is further complicated when Chrystie catches wind of it, and thinks Martin is having a mundane affair just when she needs him most.

Pic keeps you guessing right until the end, and even past it, mostly because the characters themselves aren’t quite sure what they’ll do next. The verbal banter is amusing and complex without slipping into disease-of-the-week prose or film noir homage.

Posner gets the best out of his cast and crew, although a few plot elements are telegraphed in editing — with shock-cuts and close-ups — when they’re already clear from the dialogue.

Swift’s pale, angular face remains fascinating throughout. Perry and Carides give fine, restrained perfs, and there are arresting moments with a large supporting cast (notably from David Margulies as Martin’s garrulous colleague).

Tech credits are rough and ready, with some grainy lensing occasionally cheapening the look, particularly at start. Jazzy, trumpet-led score helps keep tension high and melancholy mood steady. Pic may be too small to get major push, but “Lifebreath” is well worth taking in.

Lifebreath

Production

A First Look Pictures presentation of a Felder Pomus/Two-Pound Bag production. Produced by William H. Watkins, Alexa. L. Fogel, P.J. Posner. Executive producer, Geoffrey J. Felder. Co-producer, Bruna Papndrea. Directed by P.J. Posner. Screenplay, P.J. Posner, Joel Posner.

Crew

Camera, Oliver Bokelberg; editor, David Zieff; music, Michael Kessler, Ramsey McLean; production design, Daniel Goldfield; costume design, Rhonda Roper; art direction, Tim Manion; set decoration, Steve Beatrice; sound, Steve Borne; assistant director, Eric McGinty; casting, Fogel. Reviewed at Seattle Film Festival, June 5, 1997. Running time: 90 min.

With

Martin Devoe - Luke Perry
Chrystie Devoe - Francie Swift
Gale Pullman - Gia Carides
With: David Margulies, Karen Shallo, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Diane Kagan, Maureen Shannon, Alison Hildreth, Bill McIntyre, Gerta Grunen.
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