Stephen Dorff Stars In This Underrated Claustrophobic Thriller


Welcome to The Overlooked Motel, a place where under-seen and unappreciated films are given their moment in the spotlight. I hope you enjoy your stay here and find the accommodations to be suitable. Now, please take a seat and make yourself comfortable. I have some misbehaving guests to ‘correct.’  

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Let me start by saying that Gabe Torres’ Brake is a little rough around the edges. Some of the supporting performances are a little hammy at times. The twists are over the top. Plus, there are some plot holes that become noticeable if you stop to think too much. But if you’re willing to suspend disbelief for 90 minutes, I promise you’ll have a fun time with this taut, self-contained thriller. The action unfolds at a breakneck pace, Stephen Dorff turns in a committed performance, and the tension never lets up. 

From the very first scene, Brake proves to be tremendously intense and quite unsettling. We don’t get any sort of warmup before it all hits the fan. We open on Secret Service Agent Jeremy Reins (Stephen Dorff) trapped in the trunk of a car. His initial reaction is that he’s being taught a frightening lesson by his bookie for failure to pay his gambling debts. But Reins quickly realizes the stakes are much higher than that.

It seems he is being held captive by a group of terrorists, intent on exploiting his knowledge of the President’s whereabouts. During times of extreme danger, the head of state is sequestered at one of a number of different underground bunkers. When the POTUS is compelled to go into hiding, only the inner circle knows in which location the President is being kept. Because Jeremy is privy to this information, the terrorists will do anything in their power to get him to talk. And I do mean anything.

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The vast majority of Brake takes place in the trunk of a car with only the lead character on camera. That immediately instills a sense of claustrophobia in the audience. It starts to feel very much like we are trapped alongside Agent Reins in the trunk of that car. And that makes for quite an upsetting ordeal. He is submitted to various forms of misfortune, all of which are uncomfortable to watch. Fortunately, Dorff is fully committed to the character, which helps make the time we spend with him enjoyable, even under less-than-ideal circumstances. 

The ordeal Agent Reins endures at the hands of the terrorists serves to add to the continuous sense of unease. His captors put him through the wringer with threats, physical injury, and worse. Dorff convincingly sells the profound discomfort his character is experiencing but remains impressively cool under pressure, never really allowing the terrorists to see him sweat.  His nuanced performance clues viewers in that he is harried but Agent Reins still puts on a brave face. That stoicism makes the brief moments in time where he loses his cool all the more effective.  

Brake screenwriters Andrew Hilton and Timothy Mannion script Agent Reins as a dynamic protagonist. He is flawed on a personal level but a class act professionally. He is strong in his convictions and takes the responsibilities of his job very seriously. Try as they might to convince him to unburden himself, the terrorists find Reins a tough nut to crack. I connected with that. Not because I think I’d be able to do the same in his shoes but because he makes for a principled protagonist who believes the well-being of our nation is more important than his own. His altruism kept me invested through to the end. 

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Speaking of the end, the conclusion of Brake may be a bit of a sticky wicket for some. Sure, it’s a stretch, but if you just go with it, the final twist is pretty gnarly. It’s bleak and left me breathless. Even though the big reveal is a little preposterous, it feels fitting to that which precedes it. The whole film has a very raw quality to it and the ending is the perfect garnish to a gritty and harrowing affair.  

Though it never reaches the level of greatness of the celebrated Rodrigo Cortés thriller BuriedBrake is a similarly themed offering that is worth checking out and evaluating on its own merits. 

All in all, Brake is an intense ride that features a strong lead and an ever-present sense of unease. You can stream the film for free (with ads) on Tubi, Plex, and The Roku Channel as of the publication of this post. 

That’s all for this installment of The Overlooked Motel. If you want to chat more about under-seen and underrated films, feel free to hit me up with your thoughts on TwitterThreads, or Instagram



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