If you want to watch this film, watch it for Vidhu Vinod Chopra. It is heartening to see an industry veteran like him take this bold and daring step. What is his film Broken Horses all about? In one line, “It is a Bollywood film in a non-Indian setting.”
Set in the border of US-Mexico gang wars, Broken Horses is about the tale of two brothers who lost their father- a local Sheriff to a gang trafficking drugs across the border. The younger brother (Jacob) escapes, eager to get to New York and make a new living for himself. The elder one(Buddy) stays behind, neglected by the younger and is manipulated to join the same gang.
Years later, Jacob’s girlfriend persuades him to go back and reconnect with his elder brother. Jacob goes back and finds his brother heavily involved with the gangs. Thus starts the drama of violence, death, revenge and manipulation.
This film tries to be like a Western and at the same a Noir, where the characters are motivated primarily by their need for revenge and redemption. The film probably did tick all the boxes in these categories but it left out the secret sauce. The cinematography and the casting are brilliant, but something is off and not quite believable about the whole film.
There is an impending sense of doom and hopelessness hanging over every frame in the film. The darkness seems imposed, unreal and unnecessary. There is no hint of laughter or even a hint of normalcy which is odd and uncomfortable. Jacob’s girlfriend is the only character who sourness hanging over the brothers which is unexplainable and I feel an oversight on the part of director.
James Cameron has called Broken Horses a South Western Noir. We typically associate the Noir genre with dark, melancholic and violent European and American films reminiscent of the Classical era. Broken Horses may be a dark film but is definitely not a foreboding one. It doesn’t make you cringe. It doesn’t embroil you its drama. It leaves you a spectator, it doesn’t get under your skin.
Chris Marquette aka the elder brother Buddy Heckum has played his role with finesse. Dim-witted, highly credulous and susceptible to being exploited yet extremely loyal to his family and a much better person than his brother, this is the only character I connected with in the film.
The younger brother Jacob is a poor imitation of Michael Corleone from the Godfather series more than anything else. Quiet, aloof, immensely talented , eager to escape from his family history yet also unable to reconcile with the past. Though unlike Michael Corleone, he fails to take control when required.
I would watch a good Noir over a Romantic comedy any day. I remember watching some Bollywood films which completely personify the Noir genre. Ranvir Shorey’s Mithya for example , completely passed by us and didn’t the attention. But Mithya was brilliant in a way that it is a comedy and a thriller. The “comedy” takes on a completely different turn to what the viewer expects. The shift is subtle and brilliant and keeps you on the edge.
The Noir genre of cinema has a lot more cinematic potential than the other genres. Romance and dramas teach you to remain hopeful and positive about life. Comedies bring out the light-hearted and often ignored bits of every day life. But a Noir teaches you about the sometimes bizarre and completely futile nature of life. That the only way life sometimes justifies itself is by its complete destruction. There is no hope and no glory. Nothing is Good or Bad but completely Empty and without Hope.
However, The film sets high expectations in the initial scenes but fails to deliver. The ending is contrived and there is much more drama than the film can handle.
But having said that, it is nevertheless a bold step by an Indian director and we all know that the Indian film industry isn’t known for bold and risky endeavors. However, if you are really in the mood to watch a Hollywood flick created by an Indian director and have exhausted all the good M Night Shyamalams, I suggest you watch Shekhar Kapoor’s Elizabeth.