In cinemas today, Broken Horses is Vinod Chopra‘s debut Hollywood feature and makes him the first Indian filmmaker to write, produce and direct a Hollywood film Set in the shadows of the US-Mexico border gang wars, Broken Horses is an epic thriller about the bonds of brotherhood, the laws of loyalty, and the futility of violence.
Having left town as a child after the death of his father, young music prodigy, Jacob “Jakey” Heckum (Anton Yelchin), returns to his desolate hometown after years only to discover that Buddy (Chris Marquette), the child-like elder brother he left behind, now works for a notorious drug gang. The gang’s ruthless boss Julius Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio) has twisted Buddy’s simple mind and manipulated him into a killer…a surrogate son who blindly does as he is told. Jacob is unable to convince Buddy to leave his new fraternity. Drowned in guilt for having abandoned him, Jacob realises the only way to save Buddy is from the inside out.
After a somewhat brutal opening that caught me by surprise, the movie quickly settles down into the present day and we see really how different the brothers lives have become. With this established, the rest of Broken Horses is really about the local gangster and how, despite how he has manipulated Buddy, he is in fact scared of him, knowing he is weaker without him onside and that he cannot allow him to leave the gang. The three main characters are really well played and it is always a pleasure to see Vincent D’Onofrio in anything. It could have been very tempting and easy to get all of them chewing-up the scenery and bringing far too much to the film so I enjoyed the restraint. The only thing I’d pick at here is using a Spanish actress (Maria Valverde, playing Jakey’s finance) with an obviously Spanish accent, to play an Italian.
As the story unfolds, we get to see some familiar Western tropes such as the matches, the desolate churches in the middle of the desert and some stunning vistas. It really is a beautifully shot movie and looks and feels like a mix of the kind of emotional stories I’ve watched from Indian cinema and a modern-day Western. Presciently, it also incorporates the unfortunate situation Mexico finds itself in at the moment regarding corruption, drug and gang violence. At a modest 100 minutes, strangely for me, I felt I could have done with more movie. Not that I was confused or couldn’t follow the plot, but a bit more about Julius Hench wouldn’t have gone amiss – elaborating on his fear of fire, his dead family and his relationship with a corrupt Mexican arms dealer all would have added to an already sterling film.
As someone who doesn’t know much at all about films coming out of India, I was so glad to see my first Vinod Chopra movie. And it has made me really want to see his first and Oscar nominated film (made for $400 apparently) and of course his most recent blockbuster, PK. Broken Horses is a beautiful film that is visually superb. Equally, it will be something that boyfriend and girlfriend can enjoy together…it’s got some violence, but not blood-spatter and not with a huge body-count. Definitely recommended and by the looks of things, better than anything else that’s showing my local cinema this weekend.
Enjoy the trailer below, or better still, don’t watch the trailer…I think it’s better seen without knowing the trailer…