This film was seen as part of the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival 2013. It was the opening gala.
Broken is that rarest of beasts, a suburban ensemble drama that manages to merge charming humanism with gritty reality. Mark O’Rowe’s adaptation of Daniel Clay’s novel is filled to the brim with humour and joy, but isn’t afraid of the darker shades of emotion. It’s unflinching and occasionally brutal, a candid exploration of the intersecting lives of those inhabiting a small close. However, this honesty lends the film credibility in its lighter moments. The smiles, the giggles and the laughter that come from many off the movie’s more human moments feel earned, and there’s a wonderful sense of balance to Broken, as if to concede that life cannot be composed of entirely happy moments, nor entirely sad. That’s the wonder of it all, and Broken skilfully manages to combine those extremes into a single charming and engaging coming of age drama.
Broken is often hilarious. It’s charming, and sweet – often because it’s very clearly not trying to be sweet. Our central character is the young Skunk, played well by Eloise Laurence making her debut. Skunk is a young girl about to start secondary school. For the most part, we see the world as she sees it, all the complex human relationships reduced to big bold moments. We open with a shocking act of violence, glimpsed out of context – as it must appear to Skunk. The film does jump back and forth to give us a bit of context, but these strange points of intersection are often introduced out of context. The film never conceals too much for too long, but we are able to get a sense of how confusing the world must be to Skunk.
So, it is refreshing when the film allows Skunk to express her own relatively simple way of looking at things. The efficient courtship between Skunk and the young Dillon (“do you want to be my girlfriend?” he asks, she replies, “okay”) is in sharp contrast to the complexities of the interpersonal relationships of those around her. Broken is effectively a story about strange points of intersection, of actions and consequences that ripple outwards, in ways that we can’t predict (or even perceive). Skunk can’t necessarily understand it, but that film suggests that it doesn’t necessarily make sense even if we know everything that happens every step of the way.
We only get snippets of the dysfunctional family lives of those living in the close, but O’Rowe is able to convey so much through a minimal amount of dialogue, and director Rufus Norris gets enough out of his skilled ensemble that we feel like we know most of the cast almost intimately. Broken is a film that really needs the perfect combination of talent involved. It’s a movie that hinges on the execution of its central concept in such a way that a good script might be compromised by a weak cast, or a poor script couldn’t be salvaged by a fantastic cast. So it’s genuinely amazing that Norris has drawn together such a pool of talent.
O’Rowe’s script is thoughtful and well-constructed. It knows better than to wallow in the bleaker moments, or to play up the comedy past the point where it is organic. The script is shrewd enough that it doesn’t embellish. It doesn’t give the cast anything more than they need, and but it’s also ruthlessly efficient. Every scene in Broken has a purpose and a place, without feeling too lean or merely functional. Instead, the script trusts those working on it to exploit the dramatic potential that it holds.
And the cast do an excellent job. Eloise Laurence is fantastic as Skunk, a character who merits comparisons to Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird. (Indeed, the whole story owes a conscious debt to Harper Lee’s novel.) Laurence has to do a lot of the movie’s heavy-lifting in the central role. Skunk is the lynch-pin that binds the whole film together. If she isn’t believable, or interesting, or smart, or funny, then it is all for nothing. Laurence is more than up to the task. I genuinely hope that we’ll be seeing a lot more of her work in the years ahead.
Of course, Laurence is supported by a superb ensemble. Tim Roth is great as Skunk’s devoted father, Archie. Archie is – again – a character it would be easy to reduce to one paternal archetype or another. And, to the film’s credit, Archie isn’t a perfect father, but he’s pretty good in the grand scheme of things. He feels real, and that’s something that Archie shares with the rest of the cast. These characters all feel tangible. Roth does an excellent job as Archie, making the best of O’Rowe’s fantastic script.
Cillian Murphy, Rory Kinnear, Robert Emms and Zana Marjanovic all do wonderful work as the people who drift in and out of Skunk’s life as she gets ready to go to secondary school. It really is a superbly cast and crafted film, put together with the finest skill. Broken hinges on the execution of a familiar concept, and the execution here is – quite frankly – top notch. The score from Electric Wave Bureau also merits a mention.
Broken is a charming coming of age drama executed with tremendous skill by all involved. If you are at all interested in a charming and intelligent coming of age drama, you really won’t find a better one than this.
I don’t normally rate films, but the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival asks the audience to rank a film from 1 (worst) to 4 (best). In the interest of full and frank disclosure, I ranked this film: 4
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