Posted October 16, 2012 by Alex Moss Editor in Films
 
 

Broken


Reading a synopsis for Broken gives the impression

Reading
a synopsis for Broken gives the impression it is yet another gritty, urban,
British drama, the sort of film drenched in grey and drizzle.
But there’s something special about
Broken; a sense of innocent wonder that gilds the film with a magic rarely seen
when dealing with contemporary British films.

Skunk (Eloise
Laurence
), an eleven year old girl suffering from type 1 diabetes, lives on
a quiet cul-de-sac in North London with her loving father Archie (Tim Roth), her brother Jed (Bill Milner) and their nanny Kasia (Zana Marjanovic). It’s the summer holiday before Skunk
embarks on her first year at secondary school and thankfully Kasia’s boyfriend
Mike (Cillian Murphy) is going to be
her teacher. But when Skunk
witnesses her neighbour Bob Oswald (Rory
Kinnear
) violently assault mentally disabled Rick (Robert Emms), a chain of events is set in motion that will affect
all those living in the neighbourhood.

It sounds heavy-handed, it sounds typical Brit-grit,
like a gruelling episode of Brookside.
And yet Broken is one of the year’s most affectionate, honest and
uplifting films. For while all
manner of unpleasant things are going on; accusations of rape, child molestation,
bullying and mental breakdowns, it is all seen through the innocent and always
endearing eyes of Skunk. Based on
the book by Daniel Clay, Broken is
reminiscent of Mark Haddon’s novel The
Mysterious Case Of The Dog In The Night-Time
, there’s a sense that, while
serious events are unfolding, everything will be okay because the protagonist
believes it.

The film is littered with a wonderfully familiar and
familial sense of humour. The
interactions between Skunk and her family are laced with a sense of childhood
nostalgia, that feeling of siblings fighting but enjoying it, of parents
intentionally giving children answers they know they don’t want with a thinly
veiled smile. But Broken never
loses sight of the issues it addresses; like the scrapyard behind the
neighbourhood the problems are always there. Skunk is bullied at school by her neighbour, Mike and
Kasia’s relationship soon hits the skids and poor Rick’s mental condition gets
progressively worse.

Director Rufus
Norris
shoots the film with a summer, sun-dappled eye. It takes you back to the long summers
of your youth, or at least the ones you want to remember. The scenes in which Skunk and Jed explore
the scrapyard are particularly emotive.
He’s also not afraid to toy with narrative convention, often showing us
the consequence of an action, causing the mind to race to a conclusion as to
how it happened, before showing us the cause often to humourous effect. Rarely in Broken are things quite as
they seem. Fate, destiny, divine
intervention, call it what you will, Broken never fails to take the characters’
lives to unexpected places. Such
is the emotional pull of the story that the climax becomes nerve-wracking as
the audience hopes that everything will resolve itself. If there is a flaw, it’s that Norris
could have left the ending with a bit of ambiguity to it and still had his
audience eating out of the palm of his hand.

The natural interactions between characters is
testament to Mark O’Rowe’s script
but also to an on song cast.
Cillian Murphy dispels his sometimes creepy persona as the warm, if
flawed, Mike. Rory Kinnear is
repugnant as Oswald, even more so than his onscreen children. But it’s nice to see him in a different
light after Charlie Brooker’s
pig-shagging Prime Minister in Black
Mirror
. Bill Milner is fast
growing up from the cute role he occupied so well in Son Of Rambow to present a much more honest incarnation of a
pubescent boy than any quota of American films dare to venture. At once awkward but with enough confidence
to want to be cool, he is perhaps underused here but always a welcome screen
presence. Tim Roth shows, again,
why we need more of him on screen.
As Archie he brings an underplayed, overprotective warmth to his
fatherly role. The scene in which
he tries to avoid Skunk as she begs him for a new phone is so brilliantly
accurate you wonder if Roth has not experienced this very thing countless times
before. And then there is the
breakout role of Skunk herself, played to star-making levels by young Eloise
Laurence. Full of life, innocence
and wonder, Laurence continually dazzles with naivety mixed with youthful
insecurity. Skunk is precocious in
her hands, delightfully childish without ever being irritating but rather
endearing and genuine.

A dreamy, poetic, loss of innocence story, Broken is
anything but.


Alex Moss Editor

 
Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com