Stop me if you’ve heard this one. Two contract killers, their mark, a seductive woman. A philosophical road trip towards death, though it’s not entirely clear who will die and who will live. Psychological games, tense stand-offs, sudden violence. You may not be able to name any specific title, but it still sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Tarantino, McDonagh, or indeed Hemingway. Cheap suits, hidden guns, strong language: hitmen make for very effective cinema.
Broken is a great piece of storytelling. The editing, the pacing, the atmosphere – all add to its quality. Even if you don’t know anything about the movie, there are several hints in the first three minutes that there will be blood. After four more minutes, you think you’ve seen the worst, and the rest of the movie is about how people will deal with what has happened. Nope. Brace yourself, you’ve been warned.
And yet, the movie is not a long journey into night. There are hopeful moments, most of them involving Skunk, a smart, kind 11-year old girl. She is played by Eloise Laurence, in a debut performance that has much more to do with instinct than with acting. There is a sequence where she tries to talk her dad into buying her a new cellphone. That moment alone is worth seeing the movie. Eloise Laurence carries the story in the same way Jodhi May did in A World Apart. And oh, it was good to see Tim Roth again, without guns, without shouting. His Archie is a calm, benign father to Skunk and one of the solid centres of the small community, although he himself would disagree.
It’s hard to talk about plot. I guess it sort of starts with one of the daughters of the Oswald family, who finds a condom in her older sister’s room. She examines it and then tries to flush it down the toilet, where her dad finds it. Daddy Oswald presses his daughter into wrongly admitting she’s had sex, while she, clearly afraid of her father, blames Rick Buckley of rape, only because he is visible across the street, washing his dad’s car. Rick is thin-skinned and naïve, a good kid, but without any defences. Skunk looks on as Daddy Oswald comes rushing out of his house and beats up Rick. I have only mentioned the first six minutes of the movie. There is no way you can guess what happens next. It is fast-paced, non-linear, and it clocks in at 88 minutes, but feels longer because of all the things that happen underneath the plot. And yet, it never feels rushed. We always know where we are, with whom, why and when.
Daddy Oswald is maybe the most controversial character in this movie. He is played by Rory Kinnear as a wounded widower who does not have the slightest clue how to regain control over his three fast-growing daughters. I might feel for him if he didn’t try to rule by fear and rage.
The movie seems flawless, but I would wish for a less obvious ending. The moments in church are so conventional that they stand out as the weakest scene in the film. Luckily, it’s not a movie you watch for the ending – you watch it for the characters.
Skunk is in some danger because she goes towards people who may better be left alone. There is her brother who is busy becoming a teenager and nicks cigarettes from their nanny who, in turn, falls for Archie, who has no idea what to do with that love, or his own. There is the nanny’s boyfriend, played by Cillian Murphy, who can’t see that Skunk looks up to him, and should act accordingly. In a lesser movie, he would be the teacher who gets accused of abusing a student. Here, he does what any courageous man would do – and it’s very bad luck that he is a teacher. He is untidy with his feelings, but gets more punishment than he deserves. Maybe that’s what the movie is all about. Do we ever get what we deserve? Should we? And what DO we deserve? There is no deus ex machina in this movie – good or bad has to do with yourself and the people who are around you. Sometimes it’s not the stranger with candy that frightens you, it’s the well-meaning neighbour.