Review: 'Broken' Starring Tim Roth & Cillian Murphy

Reviews
by Kevin Jagernauth
July 18, 2013 8:03 PM
9 Comments
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There is a difference between a kitchen sink drama and a drama that includes everything but the kitchen sink, and unfortunately for "Broken," it's more of the latter than the former. Marking the feature debut by theatre director Rufus Norris and with Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy and Rory Kinnear among the ensemble, this is the kind of movie that mistakes adding a new plot twist every fifteen minutes for narrative momentum and drama.

The story revolves around three families who occupy a cul-de-sac that could be Anywhere In England. In one house we have the 11-year-old diabetic Skunk (Eloise Laurence) who lives with her brother Jed (Bill Milner) and her stepmom Kasia (Zana Marjanovic), who is dating Mike (Murphy). But stopping by most evenings is Archie (Roth), who maintains a close relationship with his ex, Kasia. Why this familial relationship needs to be this complicated is not quite clear. To the family's right are the Buckleys (Clare Burt and Denis Lawson), who care for their mentally challenged son, Rick (Robert Emms). Meanwhile to the left are the white trash Oswalds, led by the violent head of the household (Kinnear), who is still reeling from the death of his wife as he cares for Sunrise, Saskia and the promiscuous Susan, his three unruly daughters. And in case you haven't guessed, Somehow All Their Lives Will Become Connected. Sigh.

The film starts with Mr. Oswald coldcocking Rick after finding a condom among his daughter's possessions. Oswald gets the idea in his head that Rick raped Susan and flies into a rage that leads to Susan making up a story just to calm him down. The truth quickly comes out, but the Buckleys refuse to press charges for the simple fact that they're terrified of Mr. Oswald. Meanwhile, Skunk is facing many changes in her life. Soon on her way to junior high, she begins hanging out with her first boyfriend and tries to understand the complicated relationship beween her stepmom, her father and Mike (who also will wind up teaching Skunk at her new school -- this movie sure does like to make sure that every character is only separated by a few degrees from everyone else).

As you might guess, there is a lot that happens in this film, but none it works particularly well. Tonally, the film is all over the place, ranging from heavy drama to broad comedy, and while, in theory, that could work in the hands of the right director, Norris doesn't have the nuance or subtlety to pull it off. When the film calls for Serious Moments, the actors all pitch their performances to the people in the back of the theater, with yelling being the calling card for drama. Thus, when the movie shifts to lighter scenes, the transition is jarring, oftentimes with scenes feeling like they were pulled out of a different movie entirely. But worst of all, this is exactly the kind of movie where you can ballpark what happens to everybody by the end. But that doesn't mean there aren't a few surprises, even if they feel cheap and manipulative.

Based on the book by Daniel Clay, it's not clear if the source material is this shoddy, or simply the screenwriting, but essentially, the script backs itself into a corner. With everyone's actions coming home to roost in the last third of the picture, it seems like the story doesn't know where to go, and the writers aren't smart enough or don't care enough to find a way out. So what do they do? Well, blood starts to flow and characters begin to exit the picture in a hurry. We suppose this fits with the jarring nature of the narrative overall, but none of it is earned. We're asked to care about some of these myriad characters, only to see many of them dispatched, and because its so foreseeable, it only emphasizes how lazy the screenplay feels. The few surprises that are there feel like cheapshots rather than well earned twists naturally built out of what we've seen unfold.

If there's any silver lining to "Broken," it's the performance of Laurence, who shines and delivers both laughs and heartache in the film. She's a young actress who already shows a tremendously winning presence and personality in front of the camera, and she brings much-needed life to a movie that is largely missing it. As for the rest of the cast, they are mostly wasted in one-dimensional roles that don't provide much growth. "Broken" simply can't get it together on any level, delivering a tedious drama, that for all the characters and over-emoting, doesn't have much to say. [D]

This is a reprint our review from the 2012 Cannes Critics' Week.

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9 Comments

  • Bodacious T | January 23, 2014 2:03 PMReply

    It's astounding how inaccurate the details of the movie are in this review.

  • Sim@Chapter1-Take1 | July 31, 2013 12:20 PMReply

    Having actually read the book, and having actually seen the movie, and having actually read your review I'm a bit mystified. D? I have to echo what others have said - did you actually watch this movie? The film is luminous. Would love to know what prompted you to give the film such short shrift but hope enough people ignore and see the film for themselves. FYI, Rory Kinnear won a BIFA for his performance as OSWALD, and Laurence was nominated as Best Newcomer.

  • blip | July 21, 2013 9:43 PMReply

    Actually, this review pretty much nails it. The book is a shoddy knockoff of "To Kill a Mockingbird," with none of "Mockingbird"'s moral core or messages about the bravery inherent in something as simple as common decency. (While Skunk charmingly recalls Scout, Archie is a watered-down, spineless Atticus.) The "drama" in the story ranges from "unbelievable" to "ludicrous," as Rory Kinnear's Mr. Oswald (and Oswald's feral daughters) rampage through the proceedings, committing acts that, in the real world, would amount to assault and battery (you can hit a policeman in London and they just let you go? Really? Or savagely beat someone in front of multiple witnesses and get a free pass because that someone *might* have assaulted a family member? REALLY-really?) and a slew of calls to Social Services. Worse: the screenwriter actually chickens out by attempting to sweeten the ending (and here I've heard nothing other than how only "Hollywood" does this!). Had they stuck to the bleakness of the book, the filmmakers could at least have emerged with their personal character intact; as it stands, despite some (yes) fine performances, most especially from Robert Emms (as "Broken" Rick Buckley), Eloise Laurence, and Tim Roth, the whole thing plays like the worst kind of overblown social melodrama. What a mess!

  • Mohammed | July 19, 2013 1:22 PMReply

    This is the reviewer who trashed A SEPARATION. That's how much he knows about drama and what a good or great script looks like. You take him serious at your own risk.

  • lee | July 19, 2013 11:50 AMReply

    Did you even watch this movie? Kasia works for Archie's family as a nanny/housekeeper. She is neither Archie's ex nor the children's step-mom. If you're going to trash a movie without watching it, at least read enough other reviews to get the details correct.

  • Teo | July 22, 2013 6:04 AM

    How obvious was it that Kasis was the housekeeper and that Archie was the live in dad?!! How can you expect anyone to take a review seriously if it is evident you were too busy playing with your phone or something instead of paying attention to the movie. You at least owe it your full attention if you are going to review it!

  • IndieWorld | July 19, 2013 6:58 AMReply

    To Kevin Jaggernauth....If you are going to give a movie review, plesae get the details correct. You have a right to your opinion, but it means nothing if it's a bunch of rubbish. I read the book and watched the movie. I would give the book an A+ and the movie a B. It was a well selected cast - I could definitely see each of their characters in the book; however, there are too many details left out of the movie. Archie was a secondary character in the book - he was not portrayed to be the doting father he played in the movie. In the book, Mike was one of the core characters. Mike was Skunk's hero - her first love. Each time Mike received one of life's blows (and there were many), he demonstrated strength and compassion and managed to get back up and move forward. It's too bad this and his relationship with Skunk was not brought out more in the movie. However, the movie was able to show that as we all move through life; in the blink of an eye we can all become Broken. It's the choices you make once you've been dealt a bad hand that defines your character. I think the story was beautiful, truthful, and unsettling at times - all the right ingredients. Again, a wonderful cast - I hope Eloise decides to continue acting - she was brilliant!!

  • Bexter2001 | July 19, 2013 3:48 AMReply

    " In one house we have the 11-year-old diabetic Skunk (Eloise Laurence) who lives with her brother Jed (Bill Milner) and her stepmom Kasia (Zana Marjanovic), who is dating Mike (Murphy). But stopping by most evenings is Archie (Roth), who maintains a close relationship with his ex, Kasia. Why this familial relationship needs to be this complicated is not quite clear."

    Kasia is the housekeeper/nanny, not stepmom. Archie is the children's father and LIVES in the house. Did you watch this drunk?

  • anonymouse | July 18, 2013 8:11 PMReply

    "Based on the book by Daniel Clay, it's not clear if the source material is this shoddy, or simply the screenwriting."

    fancy way of saying you didn't read the book and couldn't be asked to bother, eh?

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