Director: Rufus Norris
Writers: Mark O’Rowe
Starring: Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Rory Kinnear, Eloise Laurence, Bill Milner, Denis Lawson, Robert Emms, Zana Marjanovic
Synopsis: Chronicling the lives of three neighbouring families, mainly Skunk (Laurence), her dad (Roth), brother (Emms), nanny (Marjanovic) and her nanny’s boyfriend (Murphy).
British film may be most identified as “kitchen-sink dramas”. It’s by no means a negative perception of the country’s style and focus; it has been seen as such because it does it better than nearly any country. Broken is another entry in the British film catalogue that excels at what it’s doing. Portraying drama, humour, love and violence (especially in the same film) cannot always work tonally yet Broken resonates realism. Theatre director, Rufus Norris is, perhaps due to his creative background, a natural at presenting Mark O’Rowe’s upsetting story.
As well as the director there is another new addition to the film world – one Eloise Laurence, who shines throughout. Leading a cast of already well-recognised players, Laurence could have been overshadowed by actors such as Tim Roth or Cillian Murphy. However, often is the case she steals the scene from them, and a few others.
Broken’s greatest achievement is its ensemble who never hit a bum note in the 90 minute run. With actors playing rough, almost clichéd working class fiends, or mentally challenged loners, there is the chance that one would stand out like a sore-thumb – over or underplaying that particular role. This is never the case, and with the horrid Oswald clan or the jittery Rick character their casting has been carefully chosen to make their scenes stand out as much as the lead’s.
The atmosphere that the cast and crew have so skilfully created is, unfortunately, quite muddled at points. This is what leaves Broken from becoming a flawless film. Tonal shifts from dark, nightmarish drama to jolly, comedic antics are jarring when they switch so suddenly. This isn’t to say it undermines the realism as, of course, life is full of changes. But for what Broken chiefly appears to be (a “kitchen-sink drama”), moments of juxtaposition can clumsily contort the ambience.
The creation of the film’s mostly bleak mood has been masterfully arranged with a score and cinematography. Each household with its own identity and each character with a very distinctive personality – like any good mise-en-scene in film, it pronounces itself to make the actors and director’s job just that bit easier. You can see all the elements working together to make Broken as human and relatable as any typical drama.
Hopefully the average viewer won’t have experienced the violence shown in Broken but there is never a moment where it feels alien or over-the-top. In fact, the last 20 minutes of the film are so heart-pounding and probable that you are left emotionally drained. Edited with skill and directed with such precision, this is drama that has put British film on the map. Consider Lyne Ramsey’s Ratcatcher, Ken Loach’s Kes and, to a degree, Mike Hodges’ Get Carter and you know what to expect in terms of heart-break, an analysis of adolescence, and violence.
By Piers McCarthy. Also posted on LiveForFilms