Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rufus Norris' BROKEN proves this year's most event-prone (though serious) movie

Event-prone?  More like event-wracked. Every time we catch our breath something new -- and not too nice -- seems to happen. We expect our action movies to be chock-a-block with event, but serious dramas? Not so much. TrustMovies is conflicted about BROKEN, but I suspect no more so than many of those folk -- filmmaker, actors, screen-writer and perhaps even the novelist upon whose book the film was based -- who have brought this movie to very odd, stop-and-start life.

The filmmaker here is actor-turned-director Rufus Norris (shown at left), whose first film this is, and his movie is cast and acted quite well (as we often get when thespians sit in the first-time-director's chair: witness last year's Quartet) by an excellent cast of both unknowns and knowns. Much of the movie takes place in a small cul-de-sac where several houses very nearly butt up against each other and where much that happens in one house is made privy to the others by virtue of proximity. This is both a bad and, finally, a good thing, but it makes for a hell of a lot of tsuris as the movie moves along.

If I had to place the film into a particular genre -- though it deals with themes such as the proper care of an emotionally troubled/handicapped young man (a fine Robert Emms, above) coming-of-age, bullying, diabetes, and love/romance/commitment -- I'd have to call it a slice-of-life movie, event-packed variety. We're really seeing into what transpires to this odd little "forced-community" in something of the manner, if in very different film style, that we got from Martin Ritt's 1957 film, No Down Payment, over a half-century ago.

The three homes with which we're most concerned are inhabited by a nice family broken by divorce, when mom walked out on dad (Tim Roth, above); another not-so-nice one (featuring a nasty, bullying dad played by Rory Kinnear, below) broken by death; and a third in which aging parents are being slowly broken by trying to tend to their emotionally and intellectually handicapped young-adult son. (You can rather quickly tell where the film's title comes from, and, as Alain Resnais might say, You ain't seen nothin' yet.)

What holds, barely, all of this together is the Roth character's daughter, nicknamed Skunk, and the marvelous performance by the new actress who plays her, Eloise Laurence. Ms Laurence is a natural, and her work here is something like what was achieved by Mary Badham in her To Kill a Mockingbird debut.

While Broken doesn't begin to compare to Mockingbird in either its popularity or art, it is almost impossible to imagine the film without Ms Laurence in this role. She handles everything from comedy to pain (physical and otherwise) in exemplary fashion and is a joy to watch each step of the way. In what is probably the film's funniest extended sequence, as the girl pleads, insists and annoys dad for a new cell phone (below), the actress is an unalloyed delight.

Also on hand are excellent performers like Cillian Murphy (below, left, and badly messed up) and Zana Marjanovic, further below, as nanny to Skunk and her brother, who gets rather close to the man of the house.

Scene by individual scene, it is difficult to fault the film, mostly because the acting is so very good. But the accumulation of fraught incident after fraught incident, together with the occasional too convenient coincidence (a car happening by just as a beating is taking place) indicates that perhaps the filmmaker was trying too hard to include everything in the novel. He gets a lot in, all right, but at a price. Almost nothing seems given the time and detail that it demands. This is why multi-part cable series tend to do a better job with event-laden novels: They have time enough to explore.

Still, Boy A screenwriter Mark O'Rowe has done a journeyman job with the novel by Daniel Clay; that excellent cast is worth seeing; and the performance of Ms Laurence almost demands a viewing. Director Norris also does a nice job of allowing us to see that no one here is pure villain or hero. There are shades to us all.

Broken, from Film Movement and running but 91 minutes, opens this Friday, July 19, in New York City at the Quad Cinema and in Los Angeles at Laemmle's Music Hall, Beverly Hills. The film will open simultaneously in 21 cities across the country before expanding to other venues in the weeks to come. To see all currently scheduled playdates, click here and scroll down.

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