Childhood can be tough, but how tough you can't imagine until you've witnessed Rufus Norris's Broken, a film of innocence getting roundly trounced. Based upon Daniel Clay's highly readable tome, which was itself inspired by Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, the action takes place in a cul-de-sac in Southampton, where three damaged families reside. The "dead-end" metaphor is not to be taken lightly.
In the first of the three houses focused upon, there are the victims, the Buckleys, a rather decent, middle-aged, milquetoast couple with a son in his late teens/early twenties, Rick (Robert Ems), who isn't quite all there. Allotted few social skills, the young man is almost childlike, and consequently feels most comfortable communicating with those who are really children.
Then there are the bullies, the lower-class, motherless Oswalds who have moved into a lovely Housing Association property, only to bring it to ruin while scaring their neighbors. The head of the household is the thuggish Dad (Rory Kinnear), who lords over his three teen and pre-teen daughters, who might just be being groomed for the Brit version of Jersey Shore.
And finally, there are the observers, the Cunninghams, headed by Archie (Tim Roth), a lawyer who's been left to raise his two offspring, Jedd (Bill Milner) and little Skunk (Eloise Laurence), by himself, and his live-in caretaker, the attractive Kasia. Mom, you see, absconded quite early on with an accountant, I believe.
Well, as Shakespeare noted, "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," a notion the unsullied Skunk is about to learn; after all this is her tale. She is our eyes here, and almost immediately what she sees on this end-of-summer, preschool day is ruthlessly violent.
A misinformed Pops Cunningham, believing one of his under-aged damsels has been raped by Rick, beats the young man to a pulp and then has him arrested. However, his daughter, when examined, is deemed to still be a virgin. Uh-oh.
Rick is freed, but this incident just might have set him forth on a downward spiral to madness. Meanwhile, the Cunningham girls start getting really rambunctious, sexually and otherwise, and the diabetic Skunk gets a boyfriend, her first kiss, and too much of knowledge of life in one chunk.
At school, she is bullied, her favorite teacher (Cillian Murphy) gets suspended, her dad might be getting re-wed, and her pal Rick is suddenly behaving rather oddly. But what's worse is that she's afraid everyone she loves will be departing her without notice like her Mum once did. Can there be no constancy?
Well, no! But have no fear. A startlingly natural performance by Ms. Laurence, along with her superb supporting cast under the mostly spot-on direction by Norris, help make all the Sturm und Drang that occurs within Broken extremely palatable. - Brandon Judell
The enjoyably intense Broken, currently on Ultra VOD and in theaters, will be available on Amazon Instant and iTunes beginning on July 19.
Mr. Judell is currently teaching "Theatre into Film" and "The Arts in New York City" at The City College of New York and is Coordinator of The Simon H. Rifkind Center. He has written on film for The Village Voice, indieWire.com, the New York Daily News, Soho Style, and The Advocate, and is anthologized in Cynthia Fuchs's Spike Lee Interviews (University Press of Mississippi) and John Preston's A Member of the Family (Dutton). He is also a member of the performance/writing group FlashPoint.