Broken Horses English Movie
The last time that veteran Bollywood director/prolific producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra stepped behind the camera was for 2007's Eklavya, which was a controversial choice for India's official entry in the Oscars race considering its mixed reception. 8 years later, Chopra has decided to sidestep the selection process entirely by making his international debut with the Hollywood film Broken Horses.
But as a legend once famously quoted, "you can take the Chopra out of Bollywood, but you cannot take the Bollywood out of Chopra". So the language may be different this time around, but Vidhu Vinod Chopra remains the same, with his grim, dark, violent crime-drama-thriller style still intact.
This time around, he sets his film on the US-Mexico border, a well-known hotspot of criminal activity and gang violence. He tells the story of two orphaned brothers, whose tragic past embroils them in a violent future. One of the brothers, Buddy (Chris Marquette) is a little "slow", but goes on to become a hitman for a gang led by Julius Hench (Vincent D'Onofrio). The other one, Jacob aka Jakey (Anton Yelchin) is a professional violin player, who escapes the violent life, only to be reeled back in by his love for his elder brother.
It's not difficult to spot some of the common threads from Chopra's earlier works, most prominently Parinda, which seems to be the inspiration for Broken Horses. There's the mandatory emphasis on the importance of family, the gruesomely violent streak in characters, and the patsy who is unwittingly trapped by the evil factions.
But unlike some of his better work in Parinda, 1942: A Love Story and Mission Kashmir, Chopra's latest relies more on certain moments to tide it through, rather than the film on the whole. Chopra and frequent collaborator/co-writer Abhijat Joshi try to cram in too many familiar yet distinct thriller subplots to let either of them breathe. Whether it's the infiltration of the gang, the guessing and second-guessing of the identity of the snitch, the murderous gang politics or the final race against time, there's just too much stuff that's happening to flesh out any of the elements in their entirety. Instead, the film feels like a metro train that barely stops at one station before moving on to the next one.
Having said that, the film is at its most powerful best when it puts the characters face-to-face in tough situations with tough choices to make. The relationship between the two brothers, as cliche and rote as it may seem, is the guiding force of the film that keeps it afloat. So is the camaraderie and chemistry between Buddy and his mob-boss Hench, which is a hybrid between an employer-employee and a father-son kind of a thing.
Chopra isn't afraid to let his tough-guy characters cry, sometimes openly so. It's in these moments that Broken Horses finds a distinct identify from the oft-seen, same old family/gang dramas and shows that it has a beating heart of its own. Conflicts arise due to the characters' love for each other, not greed or lust or any other silly motives.
Despite having gained a free reign over the content of the film not subject to any sort of censorship, Chopra manages to refrain from using sex scenes or gratuitous nudity to further his film. Instead, he used his newfound freedom to tell his story in his own style and his own way, free of the mandatory song and dance routines of commercial Bollywood cinema.
What he and Abhijat Joshi couldn't resist though, is the emotionally manipulative shtick that Hindi films are world-renowned for. They don't miss out on a single opportunity to deliver a sermon on the tragedy that has befallen their leads and the impossible situations they find themselves in and the hard, self-sacrificial choices that they have to make to protect their loved ones. In case you miss out on it the first time, Chopra is there time and time again to remind you of it.
Narrative inefficiencies aside, Broken Horses proves to be a technically efficient film. Cinematography by the experienced Tom Stern is pretty much the best thing about the film. Stern captures the beauty of the dry and arid desert land, the broken down buildings and the log cabins in its entirety, never missing out on a chance to frame the scenic setting. The camera work is also very up close and personal, which goes well with the film's theme. Todd E. Miller's editing is quite decent, maintaining a consistent pace and keeping the film to a crisp 102 minutes. Musical score by John Debney is a little too typical, which makes it suitable yet unremarkable.
The strongest performer out of the sturdy indie cast is Chris Marquette, who brings a fresh take to a very prototypical character of a mentally challenged elder brother. He goes for more of an understated, straightforward portrayal rather than going for hysterics and melodrama. The sequences featuring him make for some of the film's stronger dramatic moments. Anton Yelchin's protective younger brother act is much more mixed, with Yelchin playing his part with too much subtilty and too little energy. His characterization doesn't exactly call for frantic jumping and screaming, but Yelchin decides to play it too low-key to have the desired impact.
Vincent D'Onofrio turns in another accomplished act, this time as the evil-without-cause gang leader Julius Hench. He is as menacing as he is deranged in his worldview, and D'Onofrio embodies both aspects of the character ably. Maria Valverde doesn't get enough scope or screentime to make any impact.
If only Chopra had managed to trade in his proclivity towards sentimentality and melodrama for a sharper, more taut screenplay, Broken Horses could've been another giant feather in his already-full cap of accomplishments. That said, there's no denying the power the film exudes sporadically, or its ability to stir something inside you every now and then. It may not be Vidhu Vinod Chopra at his best, but it is Vidhu Vinod Chopra nonetheless.