Tim lives in a tent on the beach with his two young sons. At first it appears to be an extended sort of vacation, but the truth is that he and his family have been hit hard by the recession in Ireland.
Housing prices have collapsed, banks can’t be trusted and the country’s Celtic Tiger economic boom has come to a screeching a halt. Temporary homelessness saves them some money.
But Tim’s seemingly simple, practical solution to his financial quandary isn’t as simple as it seems, and everyday life, with its lack of privacy or stability, is not easy.
Directors Ken Williams and Denis Fitzpatrick, with a script by Williams, have crafted a gently resonant look at a family man and father at the end of his tether, trying to keep himself solvent and his family together, all while grappling with his own painful sense of failure and insecurity.
Taking place mostly on a beach, the film takes much of its visual aesthetic cues from the setting, which is gently sun-soaked and even bucolic in its way. The dramatic circumstances are revealed slowly, as are the relationships and characters of Tim and his young sons. Like the characters, the opening of the story has an improvised, shambolic feel, with an offhand ease in the beautiful cinematography and editing.
But as the story progresses and we see the strain the family is under — even as they do their best to hide. it from one another — the story gently grows more somber and contemplative, mirroring Tim’s growing sense of quiet desperation.
Actor Ronan Leahy offers a layered, dimensional portrait of a loving dad trying to present a sense of confidence and normalcy, while still wrestling with his private worries. His young teenage son, Sean — played by rising Irish actor Barry Keoghan of “Dunkirk” — maintains his own stoic facade. The youngest boy, Scott, played with great naturalness by young performer Jacob Lea, goes along with it all, asking funnily impertinent questions and making the best of circumstances.
But eventually Tim knows he can’t go on living in a tent, pretending he’s on a break from work and life. He doesn’t have a solution, though, and when he hits his lowest point — and is hit with a slur by some in the beachside community he takes refuge in — he realizes he can’t pretend towards normalcy anymore, at least not to himself.
But Tim gets some help from a surprising source, in the form of gently offered compassion and kindness. The acceptance he’s shown gives him the space to be honest with himself and how he genuinely feels: frustration, anger, sadness and failure. In that honesty, the family truly comes together, earning “The Break” its catharsis and ultimately its heartwarming ending. It’s not a new home, or a change in external circumstance, but something much more genuine, emotional and heartfelt.