E1 Entertainment // 2009 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // May 12th, 2011
Love brought them together. Music gave them a second chance.
Despite the best efforts of the marketers to make you think this was a Hallmark love story, Broken Hill is a lot more Billy Elliot than Love's Enduring Whatever. And that's a good thing.
Luke Arnold stars in this Aussie drama as Tommy, the son of a grizzled ranch owner (Timothy Hutton, Leverage) who envisions a life without hay and cowboy hats. His dream is to get into an elite music school and perfect his composition technique. He sees an opportunity to apply his musical talent when a night of indiscretion earns him some mandatory community service time and he is assigned to a men's prison to orchestrate their choir.
Along with him is Kat (Alexa Vega, Spy Kids), the object of his affection who lands in the same hot water. At first resistant, she eventually comes around to what Tommy is trying to do and together they take their motley crew of felonious musicians to Sydney for a date with destiny.
There are romantic elements in Broken Hill, but it is not a romance movie. At first glance of the DVD cover you'd be forgiven if you thought it was a love story, what with our two leads looking longingly into space and a horse walking past a sunrise for some reason. That tagline doesn't help matters either.
The center of the story is Tommy's musical journey. His relationship with Kat is a secondary plotline, used primarily as a vehicle to get him in trouble and into the prison where the real guts of the film take place: the orchestration. Sure there's some light relationship gossamer to chew on, but it's not nearly the emotional love journey you would think: it's sweet-natured, understated and doesn't overshadow Tommy's story.
His attempt to seize on his musical dream resonated with me in a surprising way. The similarities to Billy Elliot are inescapable, from the plot element of a working-class stiff hiding an artistic passion to the disapproving hard-ass dad (who eventually comes around, natch).
Granting this...er..."familiarity," I'm still pleased with this effort. Luke Arnold delivers an engaging performance. He's a charismatic, good-looking kid and this is absolutely his movie. All the characters revolve around him and the actor is strong enough to carry the day. The supporting cast led by Hutton, Vega, and some memorable faces in the prison is strong enough to buttress Arnold's performance.
It all ends in memorable fashion with the inevitable final concert. An equally inevitable narrative monkey wrench is thrown into the gears earlier, delivering the necessary hiccup before the sprint to the happy ending, but what an ending. It's not a spoiler to tell you that we finally get to see the results of Tommy's orchestrating and it's terrific.
The film ends a bit too abruptly and the title stinks, but that's about all I can summon as far as complaining goes; Broken Hill is a nice little gem of a family film.
E1's DVD is solid: 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 surround, and audio commentary with the director, producer, and star Alexa Vega.
Well-executed all around. Recommended for a family movie night.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: E1 Entertainment
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG