At the start of Broken, the North London cul-de-sac in which the movie takes place looks peaceful and ordinary. The calm doesn’t last long, though. Seen primarily through the eyes of an 11-year-old girl named Skunk (Eloise Laurence), director Rufus Norris’ film tracks the increasing tensions between three neighboring families, depicting how easily we can become inured to casual violence — and how easily confrontations can spiral out of control.
Skunk lives with her dad (Tim Roth), brother and live-in nanny (Zana Marjanovic), who is dating a schoolteacher (Cillian Murphy). Next door is a widower, Bob (Rory Kinnear), with three daughters and an explosive temper that can be set off by the slightest provocation. Across the way is a couple with a son, Rick (Robert Emms), who is mentally challenged but cheerful — and good friends with Skunk.
Based on the novel by Daniel Clay but often reminiscent of the short stories of Raymond Carver, Broken shows how the lives of ordinary middle-class people can inadvertently collide, with tragic consequences. Norris has a keen eye for details that give the three families distinct dynamics and personalities. Bob’s teenage daughters have picked up his boorish behavior and love to torment other people for fun. Skunk and her brother have developed a bond with their nanny that is half motherly, half sisterly. And Rick’s parents have devoted their lives to help their son with his illness, which seems to be getting worse.
Broken is as good at portraying the fantastical worlds of children and the trouble they can get into as it is at depicting adult affairs and the complications of relationships. The story hinges on several accidents and false assumptions, but somehow, none of it feels contrived, a testament to the high level of acting of this ensemble cast. The movie is amazingly rich, packing a lot of plot and character into 90 minutes, and it opens with an explosion of violence that looms over the rest of the film as a warning. Although there are some light moments and traces of dark humor, Broken’s overall aura is one of dread, and you gird yourself for something awful to happen. When it does, Broken devastates you, just like life sometimes does.
Cast: Tim Roth, Cillian Murphy, Eloise Laurence, Rory Kinnear, Robert Emms, Zana Marjanovic.
Director: Rufus Norris.
Screenwriter: Mark O’Rowe. Based on the novel by Daniel Clay.
Producers: Tally Garner, Bill Kenwright, Dixie Linder.
A BBC Films release. Running time: 90 minutes. Vulgar language, violence, gore, sexual situations, strong adult themes. In Miami-Dade only: O Cinema Miami Shores.