Rufus Norris is primarily known for his directorial efforts in the theatre, but with Broken, his first feature, he tumbles headlong into the cinematic medium with a surprising sense of bravado. If one were to expect a traditional mise en scène and a bolted down camera from a veteran of the stage, then one would be shocked to realise just how many rules Broken ah… breaks.

Thirteen year old Skunk (Eloise Laurence) lives with her brother (Bill Milner), father and live-in nanny (Zara Marjanovic) in a North London cul-de-sac.Broken She’s only days away from her first day at secondary school, one of her neighbours has just been taken away by the police after being violently attacked by another neighbour, and to top it all off, she’s got a crush on her nanny’s boyfriend, Mike (Cillian Murphy).

Laurence is major drawcard for this film. This is apparently her debut performance, and she knocks it out of the park. According to IMDb, she has two actors for parents, so this may mean she’s had quite a bit of informal training, but nevertheless this is one of those instances where the viewer is simply gob smacked at how brilliantly unselfconscious her finely nuanced performance is.

She is very capably assisted, naturally, by Tim Roth as her father. The relationship between the two of them is the keystone of the narrative, and their father/daughter chemistry is fantastic. It’s also good to see Murphy in a role that doesn’t require him to portray psychopathy. I’m sure this was a nice change from the likes of his roles in Red Eye and the Nolan Batman movies.

Broken does veer dangerously close to exploitation tinged melodrama. The climax feels like the writers – either Daniel Clay or original author, Mark O’Rowe – went one step too far, and they threaten to spoil their good work. If you take the setting as a kind of microcosm for middle class, western living, however, it works just fine.

As I said in the opening paragraph, Norris et al have made some bold decisions with regards to the film’s construction. The narrative frequently takes a step backwards, to cover the same short period of time from another character’s perspective, and sometimes deliberately withholds information, so that you’re not sure of the order of events. This works particularly well in a couple of the film’s tenser scenes, where the subtle foreshadowing can be quite ominous. There are also moments where the audio is divorced from what we’re seeing, so that we only hear dialogue from person A when we’re seeing the actions of person B in a completely different location. It sounds confusing but works wonderfully, and it feels like Norris is revelling in the freedom afforded by this medium.

Rating: 4 stars
Review by Stuart Wilson, 16th May 2013
Hoopla Factor: 4 stars

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