Film Review: ‘Broken Horses’

'Broken Horses' Review: Vidhu Vinod Chopra's
Vinod Chopra Films

This contemporary Western might as well be set in the Twilight Zone.

Reworking elements from his 1989 gangster saga “Parinda” in a contemporary English-language western, Bollywood director Vidhu Vinod Chopra makes a rocky crossover — to put it mildly — in “Broken Horses.” This overwrought tale of two orphaned brothers and their violent hometown reunion fails to convince on several crucial levels, including plotting and dialogue. Despite name cast members and ace work from regular Clint Eastwood d.p. Tom Stern, the audience for this curio exists mainly in the Twilight Zone, which is where the movie often seems to be set.

Pic opens “somewhere near the Mexican border, 15 years ago,” as a sheriff (Thomas Jane) practices at the shooting range. His older son, Buddy (played as a boy by Henry Shotwell, who has a grating, earnest formality), warns him that they’re going to be late for his younger brother’s violin solo. “Pop, we’re gonna miss Jakey’s recital,” he says.

“Nah, we’ve got plenty of time,” Dad replies — at which point he’s immediately shot through the head by an assassin the movie never bothers to show.

The impressionable Buddy is quickly co-opted by the local crime kingpin, Julius Hench (a drawling Vincent D’Onofrio), who takes advantage of the boy’s desire for revenge and trains him to be a hit man. The job enables him to provide for his younger brother.

Flash forward to adulthood and New York, where Jakey (Anton Yelchin), now a pescetarian hipster, auditions for a philharmonic job and prepares to marry Vittoria (Maria Valverde). He hasn’t been home in eight years, but he’s persuaded to return to see Buddy’s wedding present. The older sibling, whom we’re meant to understand is slow-witted, has made good on his childhood promise to build Jakey a lakeside ranch, complete with a white stallion and a welcome sign (“JAKEY’S RANCH”) that would be perfect for a 6-year-old. Jakey soon learns that Julius, fearful of losing his most-loved hit man to retirement, is trying to have him killed.

Other absurdities abound. Jakey’s former music teacher (Sean Patrick Flanery), now legless, wheels around his home in what appears to be a motorized desk chair and uses a flaming barrel for heat. Jakey, after joining Julius’ gang, convinces him that he’ll pose as a writer for an NYU journal in order to score an interview with Julius’ nemesis, a politically ambitious Mexican gun runner named Mario Garza (Jordi Caballero). This ploy is rendered only marginally less ludicrous when (spoiler alert) it’s made clear that Mario and Jakey are in cahoots. Even so, the scene in which Julius, at his movie-theater hideout, tries to sniff out the mole in his gang is missing a crucial closeup that would have clarified the double-cross.

Many of the devices used are simply cloying. With borderline-offensive mugging, Marquette is made to convey Buddy’s simplemindedness with grammatical errors (“he’s my bestest friend”) and a stammer. (A childlike nature doesn’t prevent him from flying into fits of violent range; at one point we see him beat a man to death.) Apparently, Jakey always carries a baggie filled with $6 that his brother gave him when they were young.

Some of Chopra’s formal choices likewise court bad laughs. A tense, “Goodfellas”-style dolly zoom as Jakey seeks Julius’ permission to accompany Buddy to Mexico is rendered comical when Chopra cuts to the reverse shot — another dolly zoom. In one sequence, the movie crosscuts between a mass hit and oranges being juiced. In a bit of bombast near the end, we watch in long shot as the white horse, which has sauntered into the ranch house, goes running out after gunshots are fired.

The heightened melodrama might play more effectively if “Broken Horses” were stylized at a consistent level, but the proportions are way off, lurching from gritty realism to the near-surreal with little preparation. At a few points, it’s hard not to wonder whether Chopra’s cast and collaborators — who include “creative consultant” Walter Murch — spoke up on issues of plausibility.

Tech-wise, the redoubtable Stern does his usual classy work. (There’s one particularly fine moment when D’Onofrio’s face is cast in shadow by the film reels in the hideout’s projection booth.) The finale’s explosion special effects, however, look glaringly fake.

Film Review: 'Broken Horses'

Reviewed at Magno Review 2, New York, March 18, 2015. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 101 MIN.

Production

(India-U.S.) A Vinod Chopra Films and Reliance Entertainment release and presentation. (International sales: IM Global, Los Angeles.) Produced by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Subhash Dhar. Executive producers, Amitabh Jhunjhunwala, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Daniel Stillman. Co-producers, Shelly Dhar, Yogesh Dhabuwala.

Crew

Directed by Vidhu Vinod Chopra. Screenplay, Chopra, Abhijat Joshi, based on an original story by Chopra. Camera (color, widescreen), Tom Stern; editor, Todd E. Miller; music, John Debney; additional music, Shantanu Moitra; production designer, Toby Corbett; art director, Christopher Tandon; set decorator, Jean Landry; costume designer, Mary Vogt; sound, Aaron Glascock; supervising sound editors, Glascock, Curt Schulkey; re-recording mixers, Glascock, Gregory H. Watkins; visual effects supervisors, Joel Hynek, Biju Dhanpalan; visual effects, Tata Elxsi; stunt coordinator, Mickey Giacomazzi; associate producer, Supriya Kelkar; assistant director, Nick Mastandrea; casting, Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee.

With

Anton Yelchin, Chris Marquette, Vincent D'Onofrio, Maria Valverde, Jordi Caballero, Thomas Jane, Sean Patrick Flanery, Henry Shotwell. (English dialogue)

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  1. R says:

    Brilliant Film ‘Broken Horse’! Very compelling with a thought provoking ending. 5 star rating

    • R says:

      Maybe… Broken Horse stirred up something inside many of us who watched it… this can cause uncomfortability.. hence, so many negative reviews and comments.. Keep making these films, there are not many of them created!

  2. Sunny says:

    Awesome review.
    Just curious to know why the director Chopra did not release this movie at festivals?
    And I hear reliance inc, financed this movie, broken horses, are they in the business in losing money, is it fine for them to lose 20 million, will the reliance share holders care?

    This movie is awful and really useless, I cannot recommend it.

    And PK and 3 Idiot was release on a season in India etc when there was no competition. During Xmas and Diwali, billions of people of india have nothing to do but see movie.

    That’s cheating. Here in NA , we don’t care about movies during Xmas.

  3. Sheila says:

    Great review. You really got it right. Loved this review.

    As for the Director – Chopra…. yes, it matters if a movie is a hit or not. Yes, it matters if the audience loved it or hate it.

    We as directors want fans and we want to make money for the studio. So we can get financed for our next project.

    It’s about winning and making movies that are good and memorable.

    Broken Horses is a movie that is utterly pointless.

    You sir, you got your head in a cave.

    Why are you this unlikable. You act like you are a genius of cinema. But did you read the scathing reviews you got in India and in North America this morning. Even India does not like your movies.

    Please, I am a director, I will never want to be as lost and stubborn as you. I want to grow and develop and be a respectful team leader.

    You have to make at leas 5 iconic/award winning movies in North America before you can talk like an asshole.

    You have to earn your right in Hollywood.

    Right now, you are on the wrong path and your Bollywood ego is clouding your mind.

  4. Sash says:

    I like this review. To the point and very smooth. I don’t get this movie. It’s much in bromance territory. Kind of embarrassing and distasteful. Let’s keep it universal, you directors and writers out there.
    And the brothers hair-style so hamfistedly done. And that baroque sets. I did not like it.

  5. Samita says:

    I wished the director and writer would write something sexy, dark yet gritty with a dose of romanticism.
    All I see here is these brothers and these Mexican thugs and sand and horses and more thugs. Brotherly love? So uncomfortable with that.

    Look at Scarface, Goodfellas, Godfather and Pulp Fiction, Married to the Mob, to find out how it’s done. Yes, their plot was about “tough guys”, but without the women in these movies, you got nothing. All gritty thriller, rotate around the women, for it to become a classic. IT’S ABOUT THE WOMEN. And you have to give a good part in the script.

    Broken Horses is a about brotherly love??????? So uninteresting for the multiplex audience. This is such an old concept. Boring. Why didn’t you bring the role of actress to the forefront? She is talented.

  6. I couldn’t even finish the trailer. If even the trailer made the movie look disjointed and overwrought, god help the film. And, once again, the only role for the female supporting actress is to be the girlfriend. Her beatific smile in the trailer made me predict that she gets killed in the movie.

  7. Naz says:

    Yes, I agree with the reviewer – tone and style has to be consistent.
    If you look at David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and Lost Highway or Wild At Heart – his style (surreal and experimental and melodramatic) – was smooth and consistent.

    From the trailer of Broken Horses – the movie looks too all over the map. The nuances are not jelling.
    It’s too jumpy in tone and style.

    Directing is so risky and at the end of the day – we don’t know if a movie will work or not.
    It’s like marriage, don’t know if it will work out.

    I did a research paper at University on Francis Ford Coppola , how he went from Godfather to
    his current flops.

    It’s risky. As we get old, we lose the edge. It’s sad.

    We can’t expect all movies we make to be a box office hit.

  8. Brian says:

    Just to add, why is this Broken Horse movies trailer looking so un-cool. Who did Mr. Chopra make this movie for?
    You review tells me that this is an odd movie .
    Doesn’t he want to make cool movies like THE MATRIX, SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE WALKING DEAD, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE, THE RAID, SNOW PIERCER, VERTIGO, NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE BIRDS, SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER, GREASE, THE AVENGERS, IRON MAN.

    Why make a movie like this where the popular demographics wont be able to relate to.

  9. Brian says:

    I don’t get why the director thinks he is good and stubbornly thinks his movie is good. Isn’t the job of the audience and critic. I like reading what critics think. 99% of the time they are right.

    Your review is well balanced.

    I think the director took too long to make this movie.

    And the trailer looks too been there done that.

    I hated the scene with that horse in the trailer.

    Very odd.

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