Broken Horses is a little, filmic oddity, that’s production is as strange as the film itself. A neo-western, steeped in tragedy, that plays like modern day John Steinbeck; it may surprise you to know that it’s in fact written and directed by popular Bollywood director, Vidhu Vinod Chopra. The polar opposite of the glitzy and glamorous Bollywood films, Broken Horses is dusty, moody, and is rooted firmly in Americana.
We open on the wide, sweeping, and familiar landscape of an American desert, before being introduced to a sherif – played by Thomas Jane – all kitted out in his cowboy gear. He’s joined by his young son, Buddy, at a shooting range. Almost immediately, the film becomes unsettling, although it’s hard to place as to why that is. Perhaps it’s the sight of a young man brandishing a gun so effortlessley; so skilfully; or the fact that said young man, holding the gun, seems to have some kind of intellectual disability. Either way, you can feel a sense of dread, and a sense of unease that stays with the picture until it finishes.
An incident occurs, resulting in the death of the father. Enter Vincent D’Onofrio as the slippery and slimey and Julius Hench, who takes the young Buddy under his wing. He tells him, in another uncomfortable scene, that he has to earn his father’s sherif badge, by taking care of the ‘bad men’; yet you can’t shake the feeling that Hench’s intentions may not be wholly innocent. Fast forward fifteen years and Buddy’s younger brother, Jake – played by the often underrated, but brilliant Anton Yelchin – is in New York, preparing for his wedding. When he gets an invitation to return home after an eight year absence, Jake relectantly accepts. On his return though, he finds a town living in fear of Julius Hench, as Jake visits his old school teacher, in a scene straight out of a David Lynch film.
To try and protect his brother Buddy from Hench, who has become a father figure to his eldest brother; Jake finds himself being brought into Hench’s gang, who are having a border war with Mexican rivals. As the story develops, the focus of it remains on the two brothers, who have a relationship of both fear and love. This is where comparisons to the world of Steinbeck, Of Mice and Men particularly, come into play, as Jake tries to protect his brother from the manipulation of others. Buddy – like Lennie Small from Mice and Men – has an innocent, child like quality to him, but at the flick of a switch, he can easily become dangerous and violent. The central relationship between the two men gives the film an edge, as you never quite know where it will end up, but lik Steinbeck’s novel, it’s drenched in a foreboding which leads you to believe that it won’t have a happy ending.
The film’s poster wears quotes of praise from Hollywood heavyweights such as James Cameron and Alfonso Cuaron, and deservedly so. Broken Horses isn’t perfect, and there are moments of melodrama that I could have done without; but, there’s a lot that I really admire about the film. The central performances from Anton Yelchin, Vincent D’Onofrio and Chris Marquette are superb. I was especially taken aback by Marquette, who plays Buddy, as I knew the face, but couldn’t place where I’d seen the actor previously. I was surprised to diacover that I’d recognised him from teen comedy films such as The Girl Next Door, which in a way, makes his performance here even better.
The performances are really what drives the film along, but Vidhu Vinod Chopra should be applauded for the ability to step so easily into one of the hardest genres to get right. Aided by Tom Stern, the cinematographer for Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, the majority of the tension and mood is created through the landscape and the colour of the film, which looks like it were bathed in the dust of the desert. It’s a combination of the strong acting, impressive direction, and excellent cinematography that makes Broken Horses a bit of a hidden gem. It’s at times weird, touching, and tense. Be sure to check it out on the big-screen while you can.
Image credit to http://www.dawn.com