May 19, 2012


A single mistake triggers a cascade of events in a small, unremarkable cul-de-sac in Rufus Norris' first feature film, a departure from his past experience with the stage. The film is emotionally engaging, traumatizing, and horrific, but without the believability it requires to make an excellent film.

The challenge with Broken is that, while 11-year old, diabetic Skunk (first-time actress Eloise Laurence) serves as the protagonist of the film, she is unable to juggle the myriad of sub-plots that pervade the film, so much so, in fact, that it becomes nearly impossible to discern which plot is the primary.

Skunk (Eloise Laurence) with her father (Tim Roth).

So imagine that we solely follow Skunk, as she, with a heavy hand, helps us weave the plot together. The film begins with one of several flashback sequences in which someone is getting beaten up, only to reveal the motivations for the beatings after, a technique that worked well once, but grew tiresome by the end. Anyway, the film begins with Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear), the brutish neighbor from next door beating up crazy Rick (Robert Emms), after one of his daughters, Susan (Rosalie-Kosky-Hensman) lies to her father that Rick had raped her after she is caught with a condom. Although he is proven innocent, he snaps and must be institutionalized.

Skunk spends much of the film attempting to learn about the going ons in the relationships around her. She observes her brother Jed (Bill Milner) in his attempts to understand adolescence, her father (Tim Roth) as he deals with the departure of his wife, and the failing relationship between her babysitter Kasia and her boyfriend Mike (Cillian Murphy). She sees her own love shatter as it builds up with a a nice boy named Dillon (George Sargent) and watches Jed's heart break after learning of his sexual relationship with Susan.

Susan is not the worst of the three sisters, however. He little sister, Starshine, is a dangerous little brat who bullies those around her and drinks with her sisters as though she is older than her 11 years. She picks on Skunk and threatens those around her. She continually brutalizes everyone, until her manipulations lead to a breaking point for the community as she attempts to cover Susan's pregnancy.

The film is truly about containment. It is no coincidence that family's live on a cul-de-sac, or that even when Mike does find a new job, it happens to be as Skunk's teacher. The film takes the smallest domino and shows that in a tight-knit, small, community, even the smallest tap can create a chain that leads all the dominos to fall.

The casting was very well-done, with strong performances all around, particularly by the warm and charming Laurence. All of the supporting cast was believable as well, with the exception of Starshine. That being said, I blame the character, not the actress.

That being said, the excess of melodrama and extreme attempts at artsiness are overbearing. There is no reason to constantly intersperse images of the father loving Skunk as a baby. We understand that fathers love their daughters, and they served the film as well as a bat beating the audience over the head. While the film is engaging and moving, it is hard to believe. Rather than attempting to impose the artistic flourishes that he does, Norris should have created a more seamless, less jumbled narrative that really defined Skunk's experience.

SPOILER ALERT: At the end of the film, Skunk has a seizure due to her diabetes, leading to a dream sequence of Skunk in a church with everyone around her. This pretty much decimated the film for me, as there was no reason for her to be there. At no point was there any indication of any sort of religiousness in the family and to put it in at this point was trite and cliche. That's grasping at straws and, rather than make the film artistic, diminished its integrity.

Emotional, beautiful, but tiresome and melodramatic, I give the film a B.

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