Broken, an adaptation of Daniel Clay’s novel, is a British drama by debut director Rufus Norris that follows three middle class families. They all live next to each other in a cul-de-sac in North London where events are set in motion following a violent attack within the community.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3Py2jvJE6M]

As the title entails, we’re following the stories of families that are all broken in their unique ways with only a little push needed for them to shatter. Broken isn’t just a compelling family tale and coming-of-age story but also provides effective social commentary on contemporary Britain and its youths.

Films like this live and die with their casts. Here that’s not a problem; there’s fantastic acting all round with not a single weak link among the terrific ensemble of compelling characters. What we have here is simply an acting powerhouse. The center piece is young Eloise Laurence who plays the daughter of Tim Roth‘s character, in a welcome dramatic performance that’s a level beyond what he’s been up to for the last few years. Laurence brings her character to life and embodies the conflicts that live within any early teen and simply does a great acting job in the role.

Zana Marjanovic plays their at home helper, because Roth’s character is a hardworking lawyer, who’s romantically involved with Cillian Murphy, playing a teacher with his rarely heard native Irish accent. It’s a different role than most are accustomed to from Murphy but he pulls it off effortlessly. Rosalie KoskyMartha Bryant and Faye Daveney play the daughters of Rory Kinnear. They all succeed at being sympathetic and yet grating at the same time, an indication of the level of acting, direction and writing on display.

Cillian Murphy and Tim Roth in Broken

The last piece of the acting puzzle is Robert Emms, the mentally handicapped and misunderstood son of the Buckleys. He’s very sedate and subtle, doing justice to a role that could easily have been overblown with less careful treatment. There are also several minor characters, most of them young kids, that help fill the film’s world with life and sense of being.

Narratively the film is immensely clever. It switches between joy and sadness with seldom seen grace, and the terrific editing often follows two threads simultaneously without causing any confusion. It also frequently shows the results of actions before quickly flashing back to show the lead up from another point of view. The effect doesn’t come off as gimmicky and serves to instantly create interest in finding out how a given thing happened and promptly paying it off. It’s just about the most rewarding cinematic experience one can have. It contains all those pieces and moving parts and accomplishes all that it sets out to do in a neat 90 minutes with not a single moment wasted.

Broken is a film that looks and sounds fantastic. There’s great care in the composition of scenes and the camera work feels carefully constructed. On the aural  side of things we have a pleasing score and an eclectic music selection that sets the mood perfectly.

Final Verdict: A crunching, powerful climax caps off a wonderful film about love, loss, family, youth, rebellion and realizing that adults just don’t have it all figured out. Director Rufus Norris shows depth and ability way beyond his years with this amazing bittersweet debut feature.

Read all of our RIFF coverage here.
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