Broken is a drama which marks the feature film debut of theatre director Rufus Norris. Already having gained ‘Best film’ award at last year’s British Independent Film Awards, Broken’s DVD release will hopefully ensure that it reaches a wider audience.
Skunk (Eloise Laurence), a diabetic schoolgirl, is happy to chat with her neighbourhood friend Rick (Robert Emms) who is cleaning his car when she arrives home from school, but is horrified when their fellow neighbour, a father of three, storms out of his house and savagely beats Rick, accusing the young man of assaulting one of his daughters. Rick is innocent, but utterly traumatised by the incident. Skunk soon comes to realise that the world can be complex and sometimes very broken indeed.
At its heart Broken is a coming of age drama focussing on Skunk (a wonderfully engaging performance from newcomer Eloise Laurence) and her increasingly complicated life. This ranges from the ordinary (starting at secondary school with new teacher (Cillian Murphy), making friends with boys) to the traumatic (dealing with bullies, supporting the sensitive Rick, whose reaction to his assault results in a mental breakdown) as well as dealing with everyday family life (arguing with her dad (Tim Roth), building a den with her brother) and her constant need to monitor her blood sugar levels. The assault on Rick is the catalyst for the story which is placed within the heart of the wider neighbourhood, so other characters are inextricably involved with the events, and we see these unfold from very different perspectives. The story is occasionally harsh – assault, criminal allegations, bullying, mental illness, teenage pregnancy and family breakdown are amongst the many issues it tackles – but the film never falls into depressing soap opera territory. The strength of Norris’s theatrical background can be seen in the convincing performances he elicits from all the actors, who take on a multitude of emotional and physical qualities that are essential to the story. Although the themes are difficult ones to address, the film’s (occasionally deliberately confrontational) humour ensures that it is not only likeable but, importantly, believable.
Also of note is the strong use of editing which constructs the story in a non-linear way, enhancing the characterisation by revealing the impact of each situation and then cutting back in time to explain the background to the events on-screen. It’s a neat trick that really integrates the characters’ responses to each episode in the story. Similarly, some of the visual elements, while not over emphasised for the entire running time, can be both striking and humorous, particularly the scenes set around Skunk’s secret waste yard camp. All enhanced with music (as listened to and danced to by partying teens) and a soundtrack from Mike Smith, Suzi Winstanley, Damon Albarn and Nelson De Freitas.
A social drama matched with compelling characterisation and really strong performances offers a different perspective and makes for a thoroughly absorbing and occasionally moving contemporary independent film. Recommended even for those who think kitchen sinks are just for washing up.