Saturday, 16 March 2013



Think you’ve got problems with the neighbours? Think again.
First-time film director Rufus Norris explores a dystopian landscape of a decaying cul-de-sac in North London suburbia.

‘Skunk’ (Eloise Lawrence) has type-one diabetes. She is always going to be a little different from the others kids, and her tomboyish outset makes little effort to blend her in with the school crowd. She runs around seeking adventures and secret hideouts with her brother, and innocently fantasizes about her babysitter’s boyfriend and teacher (Cillian Murphy). Above all, she’s dependent and can certainly hold her own against the neighbourhood bullies that pick on her for being a bit ‘odd’.

But her life is changed forever as a result of a neighbour’s lie which spirals a series of troubling events. When neighbour Rick (Roberts Emms)- a kind-hearted but backward teenager- is vindictively accused of raping a girl who lives opposite them, the girl’s father Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) outbreaks a violent attack on the boy- an attack which Rick and on-looking friend Skunk do not understand or comprehend.  

The rest of the narrative interweaves Rick’s damaged mentality as a result of by his confused anger and undeserved guilt, with the complications of each life that is involved with the incident. Norris demonstrates the vicious circle of how victims of violence can become violent themselves and the cause of their own fate - how one unforgivable mistake can trigger a life threatening situation. 

The callousness of the Oswald family is the root of all evil, and each member takes part in spreading their roots to choke those that surround them. While Bob disregards help and insults any soul who knocks on his door, two of his daughters Saskia (Faye Daveney) and Sunrise (Martha Bryant) beat up those unwilling to hand over their pocket money at school. The trio’s performance is as sturdy as their character’s punches, and the thuggery couldn’t be more solidly delivered. 
Norris really hits home with his gritty depiction of rundown north London. For each kid, there is a mother or father that has fled, died or is in jail; for each loving parent, there are two that simply do not care. It’s an area where solace comes not from within the home, but in a desolate trailer park next to a junkyard. Escapism is a luxury that many do not have, and looking cautiously through their window at the harsh realities outside cannot hide them from what they have to face. But the setting is concentrated to one corner street- a provisional window view- and Norris avoids portraying a cynical generalisation of contemporary British society.

Despite the inevitable catastrophes unfolding as events escalate and mishaps occur when the wrong people cross path, the order and succinct delivery remains coherent and controlled, and it’s as utterly heart-rending as it is infuriating.

“Why do only bad things happen?” asks Skunk. You may sit there watching and wondering the same thing. But Broken isn’t all dark and decrepit and Norris injects a line of light and happiness that creeps in underneath the turmoil. The beauty lies in his depiction of the whims of childhood purity, ignorance, and frolicky fun that dances around the brutality and unkindness of the world around them. The humorous teasing and playfulness encountered within Skunk’s unconventional family is endearing and you can’t help but smile along with the games they play and the moments they share.  The respite encourages you to take pleasure in the film’s happy moments, despite incurring a feeling of guilt whilst doing so.

The father-daughter relationship between Skunk and her father (Tim Roth) is also an honest distraction from dejection and adds a layer of conventional emotion, something that isn’t apparent between any of the other characters. Her father’s visions of her as an older woman open up a dreamlike dimension that too resounds a feeling of hope and optimism.

Elouise Lawrence glows from the moment she skips onto the screen and pulls off a mature and gripping performance in her debut appearance. Lawrence naturally inherits the tomboyish look with ragged jeans and checked shirts, embodying a courageous, young character who wears a brave tough-front as well as sweetly succumbing to her youthful dependence with seamless ease.

The upbeat, poignant scores and instrumentals written by singer Damon Albarn wonderfully couples the picture and a rendition of Blur’s ‘colour’ will be sure to stay with you hours, if not days, after you leave the cinema. Every element created by Norris, Albarn and writer Mark O’Rowe work hand-in-hand to present the contrasting, underlying themes of life’s inner-beauty and outer-evil explored in Daniel Clay’s stunning debut novel.

VERDICT: A deeply distressing but beautifully moving coming-of-age drama. A powerful debut from Norris which both enrages and enchants in its strong, and stronger, moments.

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