Broken (2013)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/03/13 19:12:03

"Practically nothing about this movie needs fixing."
5 stars (Awesome)

It's pretty clear what sort of climax "Broken" will have - main character Skunk has a Chekhov's Gun attached to her from nearly the moment she's introduced - but it's a testament to both how great Eloise Laurence is in the part and how well the filmmakers make everything else going on in her neighborhood that something else can form a rock in the viewers' stomachs, getting them to mutter that the movie had better not bloody dare...

Skunk, you see, had been a difficult birth, and is diabetic now; her father Archie (Tim Roth), a London solicitor, helps attend to her injections. But there's still plenty of time for her to run about in the summer before starting middle school, making an abandoned caravan into a fort with her older brother Jed (Bill Milner), having her first crush on a boy (Lino Facioli) - and witnessing when Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear) beats their other neighbor's mentally handicapped son Rick (Robert Emms) bloody for supposedly looking at his daughter the wrong way. Things will be a little awkward when school starts, too, as by then the family's housekeeper Kasia (Zana Marjanovic) has broken up with her new teacher Mike (Cillian Murphy).

These threads tie together, of course, and not just because Rick's father (Denis Lawson) wants to hire Archie to sue Bob Oswald. Director Rufus Norris and screenwriter Mark O'Rowe (working from Daniel Clay's novel) set the film's size appropriately; there's familiarity and connection among neighbors without this cul-de-sac becoming a hermetically-sealed environment. Things with as little import as a trouble-making set of twins who show up as a running joke can tie things together without implying that every connection must be important. That's important, because this coming-of-age movie is about learning to recognize complexity, even if one doesn't understand it.

That sort of movie demands a strong performance in its center, and Eloise Laurence is sneakily excellent. Skunk isn't especially precocious - in fact, she's probably much less so than the typical protagonist of this sort of movie - but she's not stupid, either, and what hooks the story does give her are fairly specific to her relationship with her father. And yet, by the end, the audience has a sense of who she is - trusting, a little spoiled, tending to carry the way she's been hurt around without making a scene. She's good at looking at things and giving the impression that she's filing them away until she's got something to connect them with.

It's a relatively subdued way of playing a kid in turmoil, and it's interestingly reflected in Robert Emms's performance. Rick is the sort of mentally handicapped young man often described as having the mind of a child, but it's not immediately obvious; he plays the part without obvious affectation initially, just the occasional hesitation when speaking, which brings some interesting ambiguity to how he gets more twitchy when put through the wringer. He's just one part of an ensemble giving frequently subdued but precise performances: Tim Roth, for instance, is as low-key as I can remember him as the somewhat doughy, compassionate Archie; even when he raises his voice to scold Skunk or defend someone wrongfully accused, he's eminently reasonable, though there's no doubting the depth of the character's emotion (see also: Cillian Murphy). It puts Rory Kinnear as the quick-to-anger Bob Oswald in even starker relief, although Kinnear and the filmmakers are able to keep him just short of monstrous. The same cannot necessarily be said of the Oswald girls, but they are such fantastically rotten little monsters - especially Martha Byant as Sunrise, who quickly becomes the terror of her & Skunk's school - that it's quite easy to relish them for nailing the role that they play.

Norris makes good use of his ensemble, not favoring the internationally known names over the relative newcomers, and while there are a few too-precious bits, the bulk of the movie is a well-oiled machine in how it builds up Skunk's world without seeming too directed or aimless. The filmmakers put darkness in the movie from the very start, but they're good about not letting it set the tone or overwhelm the story until later. It may a bit much for some viewers in terms of not necessarily feeling like the movie they bought a ticket for, but it does exert a grip on the audience that conveys the panic of a worried parent as well as anything can.

There are moments within that panic when Norris and company are much more clever than they need to be, especially since their ability to grab the audience by the gut comes from how Laurence and company are able to make people quite fond of Skunk without a lot of gimmicks. That sheer quiet effectiveness makes "Broken" good enough to earn its way to where it takes the audience, even if they don't want to go there.

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