Breaking & Exiting: Damages, by David Bax
Peter Facinelli really likes to rack focus. Breaking & Exiting, his feature directorial debut, is replete with mid-shot focal shifts. It’s like he can’t control himself. At one point, while our protagonist, Harry (Milo Gibson), is filling up his truck with gas, the shot goes from focusing on his reflection in the cab window to the reflection of the digital gallons and dollars counter climbing up and then back to his face. Why? No idea (the character’s finances are not the point of the shot). But it’s just one of the many neophyte signifiers in Facinelli’s movie. The film’s later, better stretches suggest the director may yet have something worth offering but Breaking & Exiting just isn’t it.
Harry robs houses for a living and has no desire to do much else with his life. After his cousin/partner in crime, Chris (Adam Huber), quits to go straight, Harry takes on the next job by himself. While ransacking the place, though, he finds Daisy (Jordan Hinson, also the film’s screenwriter) in the bathtub, having just taken what she hopes is a fatal dose of pills. He stops her but, knowing she’ll just do it again if he leaves, and having been warned that she’ll turn him over to the cops should he call 911 and, frankly, not having a whole hell of a lot else going on, Harry decides to stay and keep an eye on her, hopefully talking her out of her decision in the process.
Unfortunately, even at less than 80 minutes total runtime, it takes way too long to get to Daisy in the bathtub. When it’s at its best, Breaking & Exiting works as a two-hander but we spend a third of the movie with Harry, Chris and Harry’s girlfriend Lana (Justine Wachsberger). Worse, this section is filled with worn out clichés such as multiple freeze frames that are just a record scratch away from the “Yep, that’s me” meme.
Oh, right. I forgot to mention the voiceover. Breaking & Exiting could be used in a Robert McKee seminar as an example of the uselessness of first-person narration. Whether he’s tritely opining about how life is full of choices or literally just telling us what he’s thinking about the onscreen events, we gain no insight into Harry that we wouldn’t from the dialogue or Gibson’s performance. And then, almost as if the movie set out to make its own case against the trope, the narration largely disappears as things progress and the whole thing is noticeably better for it.
Gibson and Hinson have good chemistry and Hinson’s script offers plenty of strong comedic beats (Colin Ferguson’s one scene as a suspicious but easily pacified cop is a standout). But, once again, Facinelli’s first-time jitters work against him. He leaves too much fat around the jokes, often working against the rhythm of the screenplay by holding too long before or after a punchline.
Which is ironic because, when it comes to the drama, he has the opposite problem, rushing toward the next emotional beat without giving the last one room to land. Ferguson’s funny scene is immediately followed by a heavier one, a nice juxtaposition on the page but one that Facinelli mishandles, appearing to trip over it when he should be the one guiding us through it. Breaking & Exiting is clearly made by talented people who cared. If they learn from the mistakes made on this project, I’ll be eager to show up for their next one.