Skunk (Eloise Laurence) is a young girl, living in a small cul-de-sac, whose life’s direction changes when she witnesses a violent attack on a neighbour.
Broken revolves around newcomer Eloise Laurence as Skunk; a young girl on the cusp of adolescence who, throughout the course of the film, discovers some horrible truths about the world. Skunk’s world begins to fall apart when she witnesses a violent attack on a neighbour, from here, she learns that people lie, people leave and those things that children too often do not understand are often motivated by fear. Laurence is an absolute natural on the screen; she interacts with the people and the world around her with ease and grace. Skunk is open and warm; she treats the people in her life with love and respect, and it is through her innocent eyes that we experience the world of the film. Laurence carries the emotional heart of the film effortlessly, and quickly wins the empathy of the audience. However, while Skunk may initially see the world as black and white, she quickly learns that there are varying shades of grey; people who do bad things are not always bad people and bad people do not always do bad things.
Tim Roth as Eloise’s father Archie is almost pensive. He carefully watches certain aspects of the small community that they live in, but other aspects pass him by entirely. Roth’s screen time with Laurence is realistic, but it is when Archie begins to interact with other adults that the film loses some of its weightless feel. Cillian Murphy suffers the same fate as Mike, a teacher and the boyfriend of Skunk’s childminder. The main source of confluict in the film comes in the form of Mr Oswald (Rory Kinnear) who solves his problems with his fists. Kinnear captures the essence of a man whose wife has died leaving him bewildered and lost with several young daughters to look after.
Director Rufus Norris is an award winning theatre and opera director, but this first foray into the world of film is patchy at best. The moments with the kids are wonderfully directed, but the adults suffer in Broken. Their interactions feel as though they were created for a stage play, which leads to them feeling contrived and awkward at times. There is also a lot of incoherence in the film, but it hard to know where to lay the blame for this. Screenwriter Mark O’Rowe is well known for creating ensemble and slightly surreal scripts, but it could well be his script – adapted from Daniel Clay’s novel – that leaves the film feeling muddled and disjointed.
Broken could easily have been a coming of age story that focused on Skunk’s observations of the world around her. As it stands, the film is an examination of people and the burdens they carry. Eloise Laurence is a true find, and she gives the film a relaxed and natural feel and Rob Hardy’s cinematography is beautiful, but Broken suffers from sometimes awkward direction that does not work on screen, and a scattered script, which add up to create a patchy whole.