Based on Daniel Clay's 2008 novel, Broken, which was adapted for the screen by Intermission scripter Mark Rowe, transports Harper Lee's beloved coming-of-age classic To Kill a Mockingbird from the pre-Civil Rights era American Deep South to a contemporary British suburb in the south of London.
Yet instead of merely serving up a by-the-numbers remake, Broken uses the main plot points of Lee's work as building blocks to create a new structure refreshing enough to breathe new insight into the issues she addressed in her coming-of-age tale.
In doing so, first time feature director Rufus Norris has crafted a deeply affecting, humanistic, yet surprisingly tender and vibrant film that adds to our discussion of Mockingbird rather than takes away from it -- constructing something that feels as much its own unique narrative as it does inspired by Lee's novel.
Removing the court case that comprised a large chunk of both the book and film versions of Mockingbird completely as well as the issue of race from this variation of the text, Broken moves all of the story's key players to a busy cul-de-sac just-of-sight of council houses, serving up an immediate subtextual issue of class.
Lee's work revolved around the fear-of-the-unknown in terms of the hypocrisy witnessed by its young heroine Scout -- updated to eleven-year-old Skunk (Eloise Laurence) -- and centered on outsiders whether they were in the form of Scout and Jem's new young friend for the summer (based on Truman Capote), the girl who cried rape, Tom Robinson or Boo Radley.
While Broken celebrates outsiders as well and populates the film with them, it also makes Skunk more of one right from the start and in doing so, bonds her with this storyline's version of Boo Radley right off the bat.
Combing Boo with Tom Robinson (and also using Robinson for second inspiration later), we're introduced to Rick (Robert Emms), a special needs adult who lives across the street from Skunk and her older brother Jed (Bill Milner).
Already friends with Rick as the film opens despite their age difference -- undoubtedly because both see the world with the same sense of childlike wonder -- they're also linked with another detail that sets them apart from the others in the form of medical disability. Just as Rick needs to take extra care for his needs, we're quick to discover that Skunk has a dangerous case of Type 1 Diabetes and must stay diligent with that as well.
Exposed to the cruelties of the world around her -- most notably at the hands of the Oswald family who live next door, holding court at the end of the cul-de-sac, as the movie begins, Skunk watches helplessly as over-protective, temper-ridden widower and father-of-three girls Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) beats Rick senseless for a crime he didn't commit.
While that violent accusation is resolved shortly thereafter, the after-effects linger for the rest of the film's ninety-one minute running time, spiraling out-of-control and affecting all those who live on the cul-de-sac in a variety of ways, with Skunk growing up much too quickly in the process.
Having beaten out over 850 girls for the part in a multi-year search -- while it's mesmerizing newcomer Laurence's film all-the-way as Skunk is the beating-heart of the picture even when offscreen, she's undoubtedly augmented by the stellar ensemble cast.
Understanding that there's only so much information one can believably convey from Skunk's point-of-view, in a wise departure from the youth-centric original source-material, we're let into the homes and classrooms of neighbors and friends, coloring in the lines and adding much greater understanding of some of the supporting players than we'd ever gotten before and it's particularly effective with regard to Rory Kinnear's turn as Bob Oswald.
In a British Independent Film Award-winning role, Kinnear deserves acclaim for what he does with arguably the most difficult part, managing to terrify us in one moment and then break out hearts the next in quieter scenes where we see him ironing, holding tight to his daughters or rushing to save a child to make up for the one he could not as a brute who probably knows no other way to raise his girls since the death of his wife.
Utterly spellbinding, filmmaker Norris wisely breaks up heavy drama with childlike reverie, thanks to curious shifts forward-and-back in time to force us and see things from a different perspective and a dream-like quality that bookends the picture and pays tribute to the father/daughter love story between Skunk and her kind, solicitor father Archie (an understated Tim Roth, stepping into Gregory Peck's shoes as Atticus Finch).
Offering a second Atticus-like role to actor Cillian Murphy as Skunk's other source of hero worship in the form of a favorite teacher, although Broken never lets us forget how important it is to have a strong guide or two in life, it has enough trust in Skunk -- and indeed she in herself to know that if she says true to herself-- she'll always manage to do what's right regardless of what happens when things go wrong.
Containing a creative if ultimately uneven bonus short film in the form of Matthew B. Wolff's The Way the World Ends and boasting a bevy of on-set interviews with Laurence, Roth, Murphy and Norris, Broken which also served as the Opening Night Film for Critics' Week at the Cannes Film Festival, has just been released to non-subscribers for sale on DVD (and for streaming) from Film Movement.
Now Available to Own
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