Even with Gritty Storytelling and Experimental Cinematography, Broken Devolves into Melodrama


A developmentally disabled man (Rory Kinnear) is falsely accused of rape, brutally beaten, arrested, acquitted, and freed in the first 10 minutes of Broken, a briskly paced study of familial collapse and neighborly decay in middle-class England. Theater director Rufus Norris translates the spatial confines of the stage into a clever narrative framework that surveys the ripple effects that neighbors of a suburban cul-de-sac have on one another’s lives. A triad of sisters and their bellicose father inadvertently launch a cascade of violence that ends in heartbreak and death, while, on a lighter note, a pair of teenage twins, symbolizing arbitrary misfortune, roll around the neighborhood flinging poop at passersby like anarchy on a scooter. Observing—and reluctantly growing up into—this civilizational decline is 11-year-old Skunk (Eloise Laurence), a sweet, smart, diabetic girl terrified of starting middle school. She soon falls prey to the sisters, though her father (Tim Roth) and teacher (Cillian Murphy) do their paternal best to help her recover. Through grainy cinematography, frequent use of handheld cameras, and the hermetic setting, the film is necessarily both intimate and claustrophobic. Even more admirable is its refreshingly impatient editing, which adopts a kind of shorthand storytelling in some scenes and a deftly garbled chronology in others that feels like the future of filmic syntax. Unfortunately, Broken lives up to its mawkish title, and the slice-of-life tragedies of the film’s first half devolve into manipulative melodrama in the latter part. When society breaks, the spell does, too.