End of innocence – Broken review

Broken

By Richard Haridy
October 23, 2013

Young love, bullying, teen pregnancy, divorce, a terrifying first day at high school, juvenile crushes on an old man, mental illness: Broken certainly packs everything into its schematic coming-of-age narrative. Prominent theatre director Rufus Norris‘ debut feature film, a bold modern-day riff on To Kill A Mockingbird, is a frustratingly disjointed experience that only occasionally works.

Eloise Laurence plays Skunk, a young diabetic who witnesses her neighbour Rick (Robert Emms) getting beaten up by another neighbour, Mr. Oswald (Rory Kinnear). She learns Rick was mistakenly accused of raping one of Oswald’s daughters, and so begins a tumultuous chain of events that will lead to Skunk learning about the brutal ways of the world.

Broken

For much of its running time, Broken surprisingly defies the ‘misery-porn’ heritage that has graced much suburban British drama in recent years. There is an inconsistent but still enjoyable blend of kitchen-sink grimness and lyrical impressionism as Norris navigates some poignantly evocative vignettes. The final act, however, is where things exasperatingly fall apart as an epic coalescence of melodramatic twists becomes quite unbearable. Watching this final stretch of Broken feels like observing a freight train plough through a field of fragile poppies as the narrative violently erases all gentle nuance previously built up. These tonal shifts may have worked better in a longer television miniseries, where the characters had more room to breathe, but here the swift onset of a suffocating sense of dread is just uncomfortably overwhelming.

Despite this closing melodramatic misfire, Broken still has much to recommend. Laurence is an effervescent revelation, gloriously conveying the innocent joy of childhood, while Tim Roth grounds the picture with his stoic patriarchal presence. In fact, all the performers are sensational, with Norris’ theatrical background affirming his strong ability to generate great turns from the entire cast in spite of their broadly written roles.

Shot with a lovely warm hue by Rob Hardy, Broken has enough great moments to make it worthwhile. Yet, those naggingly problematic last sequences leave a bitter taste. Do they undo a solid first hour? That’s up to the individual viewer. Still, it certainly makes a stark case for “less is more” moviemaking.

3/5

Broken will be available on Quickflix from October 23, 2013.

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