Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Cast: Chris Marquette, Anton Yelchin, Vincent D’Onofrio
Rating: 1.5 stars
How to view Broken Horses? Should it be seen as a film in itself or should it be seen in the context of a Bollywood director’s first Hollywood film? The film’s publicity material splashed James Cameron’s and Alfonso Cuaron’s generous words of praise in large fonts. Writer, director, producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra himself has spoken at length about his experience of wielding the camera on foreign shores. Hard as this may be to forget or ignore, five minutes into the film and you have enough to remind you that it is indeed Bollywood neatly packaged in Hollywood wrapping paper. Somewhere while talking about the film, Chopra did mention that it’s a Hollywood adaptation of his own film Parinda (1989).
Broken Horses is a revenge drama about two orphaned brothers pitted against one nemesis set in the backdrop of US-Mexico border gang wars. The action unfolds “somewhere near the Mexican border.” The film tries to fit itself in the mold of a Western, with a healthy number of gun-toting dudes in lumberjack shirts and leather jackets, driving dusty sedans and bullets motorcycles. Jakey (Anton Yelchin) and his slow-witted elder brother Buddy (Chris Marquette) lose their sheriff father when he gets murdered by an assassin, who remains a mystery forever. While the mentally challenged Buddy gets adopted by the local crime lord who seeks to exploit Buddy’s perfect aim, Jakey grows up to become a successful concert violinist in New York, far from the bloody by lanes, “somewhere near the Mexican border.”
The drama unfolds when Jakey returns home only to get sucked in the whirlpool of crime in his hometown. Without getting into details, what follows is an overtly sentimental concoction of brotherly love, loyalty, family values, honour of a promise and of course revenge. There’s also a fairy tale ranch that floats on a lake with a fantastical white stallion. And somewhere not too far away a legless man navigates on a motorised chair. Often, very often, emotions take precedence over logic, something that can only be ignored if the director sweeps us off our feet with a classy treatment. But no luck there. So, with due respect to the masters who have highly praised the film, for a Hollywood audience (who Chopra is aiming to please) that is bursting at the seams with Western movies, this may seem a poor me-too, bordering on a caricature.
The violence is artful with a couple of very poetic shots. But the cinematography at large doesn't provide much to write home about. The special effects are painfully fake and in that context the ‘Hollywood’ label hurts even more. The performances are earnest but seem practised, especially Chris Marquette’s slow witted Buddy. Anton Yelchin as Jakey doesn’t reveal much beyond being totally aghast at all times. Vincent D’Onofrio is convincing as the menacing gang lord but falls short of terrifying us.
The film has its flaky moments of style but the lack of consistency is too much to endure. Chopra in one of his interviews said, “I let my childhood fantasy overrule my rational senses. That’s the only reason the film exists.” He also had four years and 20 million dollars. That’s all very fine but perhaps we would have preferred a slightly grown up recreation of his 'childhood fantasy'.