Film Movement // 2012 // 91 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // November 8th, 2013
"An ethereal chaos"
Joan Didion famously said that "We tell ourselves stories in order to live," which is, of course, true. However, we also tell ourselves stories to make sense of the world (which may, in the end, be the same thing). The more mysterious an aspect of human existence, the more it gets treated in our stories. That's why there are millions and millions of novels about love, and few about getting a driver's license. Both can be painful experiences, but only one of them is straightforward. The bildungsroman, or coming-of-age story, is another popular form because we don't understand how exactly we transition from children into adults. Is it a single moment, like turning on a light? Or do the embers of our adult minds only flare up slowly over time? Broken takes something like the former approach, offering us a peek at a young girl's maturation in North London under the pressures of violence and passion.
Skunk (Eloise Laurence making her film debut) lives in North London with her father (Tim Roth, The Incredible Hulk), a lawyer who spends more time at work than at home. Skunk, a precocious tomboy, makes up for the lack of parental attention by watching those around her, including the Buckleys, who have a son with mental issues, and Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear, Skyfall), a violence-prone single father raising a gaggle of young daughters. When some lines are crossed, violence erupts and Skunk is there to see it all.
Broken is the debut film for director Rufus Norris (adapted by screenwriter Mark O'Rowe from a novel by Daniel Clay). It's the mark of a good debut that it can cover up its sources to seem fresh without trying too hard to obliterate their marks. Broken owes a debt to films that have come before it, but it's excellent casting and self-assurance keep it from feeling like a retread. There's something of To Kill a Mockingbird in Skunk (which is not so different a name from Scout), and her lawyer-father doesn't do anything to dispel that feeling. The naturalistic feel of the setting and the steady hand of the actors put Broken in line with other British dramas, especially those of Mike Leigh.
The plot doesn't do much for Broken; anyone who's seen a handful of these kind of dramas can guess where the trouble is going to come from and where it's going to end -- and yet, Broken has a couple of tricks up its sleeve to keep it from being boring. The major factor is the cast. It's hard to believe that Eloise Laurence didn't grow up in front of the camera: she's obviously comfortable and doesn't seem self-conscious with the material. Tim Roth is perfectly cast as her father. It's lovely to see him play a regular guy -- no villains or antiheroes -- who loves his daughter more than he's capable of expressing. It's similarly nice to see Cillian Murphy dig into the role of a regular guy. He's got charm to spare, and perhaps the only problem casting him is that he's prettier than any schoolteacher I've ever seen, stretching credibility a bit. The rest of the cast is equally excellent, really bringing to life this North London suburb.
The other big trick that Broken has up its sleeve is Norris' skill with the camera. The film itself was shot on 35mm, but to cut costs, the production used expired stock. With such meager resources, most directors would have locked production down, minimizing improvisation and keeping movements tight and well-rehearsed. Broken, instead, feels loose and of the moment. Maybe that was achieved throughout relentless practice, but what's on the screen feels organic and lived-in, perfectly complimenting the scenarios playing out on screen.
This DVD set also does the film justice. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer looks good, but isn't perfect given the source material. Colors can fluctuate a bit, and black levels aren't always consistent. However, detail is strong, and most of the "problems" with the image are likely due to the source rather than this transfer. The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track is a bit better. Dialogue is clean and clear from the front, with the surrounds getting use to establish the spaces of this London suburb. Closed captions are included.
Extras start with 20 minutes of interviews with the cast and crew, and also include the film's trailer. A bonus short film is included, about a couple living as the world disappears, but its connection to Broken is unclear.
Broken is a fine example of British coming-of-age drama. Though it relies a bit too heavily on narrative shortcuts, the excellent acting and assured camerawork keep the film interesting. Fans of the actors or British drama should definitely check this one out.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Film Movement
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (CC)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Short Film