A brief personal, movie-going anecdote: If there is one sub-genre of films I love, it’s one that takes place primarily in a day or evening. There’s such a fascinating way to create drama and challenge the writer and director to keep the momentum up and arcs fluid as the action of the film takes place over mere hours. Elyse Niblett-Russell’s The Broken Ones should have worked for that reason, pairing two strangers over the course of a night to learn about each other’s fractured lives, but in a frustrating way, it doesn’t.
The film follows Andrea (Cece King, who wrote the script) as she resides in a sober living facility run by Rowland (Constance Shulman, from Orange is the New Black). Rowland runs the house with strict compassion for the women living there, making sure they abide by all of the rules to aide their journey to healthy living. Most importantly is the curfew rule, which Andrea breaks when she chooses to step out for the day.
Andrea crosses paths with Jim (Charlie Bewley) as he prepares to lay down on train tracks to end his life. Andrea joins him and gets right on the ground next to him much to his confusion. Why would this complete stranger choose to end her life with someone she never met? Jim can’t let his decision affect hers, so he rushes them off the tracks as a train passes by. They spend the next several hours getting to know each other and what brought them to those tracks on that given day.
“…as he prepares to lay down on train tracks to end his life. Andrea joins him…”
By construct, most of the action that occurs in The Broken Ones feels contrived because how else would these two characters ever meet at the exact same location? All of the happenstance comes with the terrain, and that’s fine, but how the story unfolds becomes increasingly problematic without much of an invitation to the audience to be a part of their story. Most damaging is the film’s heavy-handed and distracting score, which alienates rather than intensifies what is happening in the story. There are points in the film where the characters are talking to each other but the music drowns everything out. There can’t sustain emotional involvement with the characters if we are kept alienated by surrounding artistic choices.
Despite this distraction, there are glimmers of affecting moments in Niblett-Russell’s film, where we get to believe Andrea and Jim found each other for a reason. The performances by the two leads work to supersede surrounding issues and make the pain of the characters believable. If the movie had toned-down its flair and focused more on its substance, The Broken Ones would have undoubtedly been a more effective film.
The Broken Ones (2018) Directed by Elyse Niblett-Russell. Written by Cece King. Starring Cece King, Charley Bewley, Constance Shulman.
5 out of 10