Thursday, July 25, 2013
An observant 11-year-old girl nicknamed Skunk (Eloise Laurence) occupies the centre of the vignettish London drama "Broken." In the movie's first scene, she chats amiably with Rick (Robert Emms), the kind young man who lives across the cul-de-sac with his parents and is what used to be called mentally retarded. As she's leaving, their neighbor Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) walks onto Rick's driveway, exchanges hellos with Skunk, hauls off, and mashes Rick's face in; one of his two slutty teenage daughters (the youngest is a holy terror of a schoolyard bully) has falsely accused Rick of forcing himself on her. This is just the beginning of the misery and indignity director Rufus Norris and screenwriter Mark O'Rowe (working from a Daniel Clay novel) have in store for their characters (two sisters with twin Afros bike around the neighborhood throwing bags of human feces at people), and it all comes off more as the maneuvering of game pieces than authentic human experience.
At times, "Broken" plays as a coming-of-age drama, and Laurence is its breakout star; there's enough going on behind her eyes to keep us watching even when the parade of horribles really overheats in the latter stages. But why does Norris dumb her down even a little bit? When Skunk's father Archie (Tim Roth) asks her if she knows what a DNA test is - another Oswald girl has accused Mike (Cillian Murphy), her teacher and the on-and-off boyfriend of her nanny Kasha, of raping her - Skunk says she doesn't, and I didn't buy it for a second. Hasn't she watched TV this century? (Of course, the cops don't seem to know what it's for, either; Archie, an attorney, takes Mike's case when he's arrested, and delivers a speech about either charging him or releasing him that would be rendered moot by a two-second swab.) There are precious few characters for us to like or root for in "Broken," making it hard to find an emotional way in. In the last scene, Skunk (who also happens to be diabetic) lies in a coma in the hospital, and it's touch-and-go whether she'll come out of it. We see her imagine her own funeral, a scene that echoes Jerry's vision of his mother sitting in the bleachers in Keith Gordon's great 1988 "The Chocolate War." Norris piles the bleakness on so thick in "Broken" that, when (spoiler alert) Skunk does snap to, you may find yourself wishing he'd given the movie a happy ending instead.