I could probably watch Guy Pearce toss a salad for a couple of hours and still be engrossed in his performance. He may not possess the box-office pull of the Pitts and DiCaprios of this world, but - along with Edward Norton - Pearce is one of the most underrated actors of his generation.

Mike from Neighbours has certainly come a long way since his Australian soap-opera beginnings (Pearce also appeared in Home and Away). From his magnificent film breakthrough as Felicia Jollygoodfellow in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, to playing Leonard Shelby in Memento and the strangely coiffured and villainous cop Charlie Rakes in Lawless, Pearce embraces the uniqueness of every character he inhabits.

For the romantic drama Breathe In (CineFX, tonight at 10pm), he grows a beard. It's not quite the same level of method acting that was required for Rakes (for which Pearce shaved off his eyebrows), but, working with the intimate and improvised style of director Drake Doremus, the Australian actor once again delivers an impeccable performance.

Pearce (right) stars as high-school music teacher and frustrated rock star Keith Reynolds, who is stuck in a suburban rut with his wife (Amy Ryan; Birdman). He dreams of recapturing the bohemian buzz of their former New York city life once their daughter has left for college. The arrival of Sophie (Felicity Jones; The Theory of Everything), a glamorous 18-year-old music-exchange student, sparks a deep longing in Reynolds, and sexual tension slowly builds between them.

Hollywood has, of course, mined similar stories of marital stability under threat from youthful temptation a million times before, and it's not hard to guess the predictably downbeat conclusion, but with Doremus' slow-paced delivery and subtle performances from all three of the main protagonists, Breathe In doesn't fall into your typical tale of guilt-laden lust.

Pearce and Jones (who worked with Doremus on the critically acclaimed movie Little Crazy) are electric together, and with the camerawork so up close and personal you can almost feel the forbidden passion bristling beneath their skin.

While it is by no means perfect, and for some it will draaaag, it is most definitely a far greater movie for Pearce's involvement.