J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Broken: Parents Worry

Her name is Skunk, not Scout, but it is easy to understand how viewers might hear it that way.  This British coming-of-age tale might yearn for Mockingbird comparisons, but it is a pretty good film when considered on its own merits.  Skunk will indeed observe the best and worst of people in Rufus Norris’s Broken (trailer here), which opens this Friday in New York.

Archie is a conscientious single father, but there is only so much he can do to protect his tomboy daughter.  Life has not done her excessive favors, starting with the mother who abandoned the family shortly after her birth.  However, she gets along with her older brother relatively well and her solicitor father is a good provider (yes, he is a lawyer, just like Atticus Finch).  She seems to be maturing into a responsible young adult, caring for her Type 1 Diabetes and starting a new term at school.  However, a violent assault on Rick Buckley, an ambiguously developmentally challenged young man living across the street, will set off an escalating series of tragedies.

Skunk always liked Rick and his middle aged parents, but Bob Oswald’s trampy delinquent daughters next door are a different story.  It was their false accusation of rape that precipitated the attack poor Rick.  In the annals of bad movie neighbors, they are some of the worst.  Nonetheless, Skunk will also see examples of ennobling human behavior, including that of Mike Kiernan, her favorite English teacher and her nanny’s ex-boyfriend.

For good or for ill, just about every significant event in Broken is driven by parents’ concern for their children.  Even the knuckle-dragging Oswald is acting on flawed parental instincts and has his moments of fundamental decency here and there.  Indeed, Broken excels at showing human nature at its messiest and most complicated.  Strangely though, it ends with a rather overwrought excursion into symbolic expressionism at odds with the rest of the film’s grounded realism.

Tim Roth might be channeling his inner Gregory Peck, but he is still fantastic as Archie.  It is a smart, patiently understated, and wonderfully humane performance.  Avoiding most of the pitfalls young actors fall into, Eloise Laurence is neither too cloying nor too overly obnoxious as Skunk and her vocals on the film’s soundtrack nicely reinforce the sad pseudo-nostalgic mood.  She makes it clear this is a bright kid, but sometimes a bit of a handful.  Denis Lawson (Wedge from Star Wars) is quietly compelling as the anguished Mr. Buckley, while Rory Kinnear humanizes the mercurial Oswald to a remarkable extent.

While Broken may not break any new cinematic ground (and the late inning stylization is a mistake), the honest earthiness of its characters is dramatically compelling.  Likewise, Roth’s work will speak directly to most parents, representing a marked but welcome departure from the sort of rogues and fast talkers he often plays.  Recommended for viewers who appreciate family dramas with grit, Broken opens this Friday (7/19) in New York at the Quad Cinema.

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