Synopsis – The bonds of brotherhood, the laws of loyalty, and the futility of violence in the shadows of the US Mexico border gang wars.
My Take – People used to watching Indian movies, may be familiar with the name of Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the producer & (one of the) writers behind Bollywood blockbusters such 3 Idiots, PK & the Munna Bhai series. While his directorial work sparring a few films (Mission Kashmir, 1942 A Love Story) have not met the proposed success. They are quite decent on their own. Hence, as a fan of his work I was quite rejoiced to know about his English language debut. Right from the earlier (possibly rumored) casting of Mickey Rouke, I have awaited the release of this film with patience. While, the movie works in bits & pieces on its own, to the Indian film audience, this film comes comes across as nothing more than uncalled for reworking of Vidhu Vinod Chopra‘s very own seminal 1989 crime saga, “Parinda” starring Nana Patekar, Anil Kapoor, Jackie Shroff & Madhuri Dixit. While Parinda was a path-breaker in 1989, giving the first gritty portrayal of the underworld in Bollywood, his first Hollywood venture is doubtful to make any waves on those well-trodden shores. Particularly as Parinda itself drew comparisons with a classic crime film that preceded it by three decades – Elia Kazan‘s Marlon Brando starrer, “On the Waterfront”. The similarities between the two films (Broken Horses & Parinda) are so prevalent and irrefutable – motifs, characters, the plot, even scenes – that to a person who has watched “Parinda”, this film feels the same just with a different cast, and therein lies the biggest glitch with the veteran filmmaker’s Hollywood debut. Basically twenty six years later the film has returned, with Mexico’s dust bowls replacing Mumbai’s mean streets, a ranch on a lake replacing a crucial boat, two brothers joined by love and circumstances now also tied by a slight mental disability, and a lot less blood and a lot more conscious style.
As for a person who hasn’t watched “Parinda” – and most of Chopra‘s Hollywood audience would fall in that category – this film feels rocky, with certain parts of the story not quite adding up. What could have been acceptable in a 1989 Mumbai, is not quite so on the 2015 Mexico border. Vidhu Vinod Chopra and writer Abhijat Joshi seem to have taken the drafts of Parinda and ran them over the barren landscapes of crime- infested US-Mexico border and to be fair did not make a complete mess out of it. There are enough things to appreciate here. The performances are impressive and so is the cinematography. The movie does not fail due to the want of acting chops or production quality. What it lacks is plain, strong storytelling. The story follows two brothers Buddy (Chris Marquette) & Jacob (Anton Yelchin). Fifteen years ago when their father, Sheriff Heckum (Thomas Jane) is murdered right in front of Buddy, an upcoming local mobster Mr. Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio) seizes the opportunity to utilize young Buddy’s need for revenge. In order to keep his younger brother Jake away from the blood shed, Buddy quits school & joins Hench’s gang in order to provide for his little brother, a musical prodigy. Jump ahead 15 years, and Jacob is engaged to Vittoria (Maria Valverde) and living in New York City as a classical violinist. Buddy (Chris Marquette) entices Jakey to come visit after being away for eight years plus he has a gift waiting for him. Jake isn’t in town very long before he fully understands that Hench, now has a grip on Buddy, who is now a full-fledged hit-man engulfed in the various border gang wars. Here is where the brotherly bond kicks in. Watching it play out against the manipulative power of Hench provides the meatiest conflict within the film. The brothers admit to living on “different planets”, but it’s clear that their traumatic childhood has connected them in a manner that time and distance can’t break, even though one of them more readily identifies “bad men”. Chopra keeps the film short and crisp at around 100 minutes, and its violence precise and clipped, a welcome break from similar films that thrive on their glorious celebration of blood. However, with a wisp of a backstory and an embarrassingly simple front one, its largely solid acting can only get it accolades it for its ambition. It had all the makings of a strong, moody tale with sparse characters and dusty landscapes of a Western. It could have even aimed somewhere between Unforgiven and A History Of Violence but unfortunately ended up way off-the-mark. The tension and mood that Chopra tries to build could have worked so well had it not been for the predictable turn of events and all too familiar tropes of brotherly sagas. It’s not that Vidhu Vinod Chopra has done a bad job but he just hasn’t done enough with the job at hand. What’s there on the screen looks half-baked and incomplete and the movie lacks that punch and tension that you expect from a drama like this.
On the technical front, Tom Stern‘s (long time Clint Eastwood collaborator) cinematography is par excellence, and is among the stronger points of the film – shots of the Mexican countryside are beautifully captured. A scene that particularly stands out is the one where the extraction of orange juice is interspersed with goons being killed. Lost in translation would be an understatement. The original story of Parinda, two brothers in the edgy midst of the underworld, trying to break free from a mercurial Mafia king pin, is intact in its Western retelling. Twenty six years ago, Parinda was a game changer, this one is just a shoddy revisit of that memorable film. Worst part is, it’s left out all the good parts of the original. The ensemble cast does a commendable job, with Vincent D’Onofrio, Chris Marquette, Anton Yelchin, and Maria Valverde all coming across as believable. Nana Patekar‘s psychopathic Anna Seth of “Parinda” sees a parallel in D’Onofrio‘s Hench, who has an irrational nervous breakdown on seeing a burning candle in a church. Marquette, an actor known mainly for his comic supporting roles, is convincing in his role as Buddy, a man who is somewhat slow, but impeccable with the gun and his fists, and is easily brainwashed. Anton Yelchin is likable as the violinist who needs to dirty his hands to save his brother. Maria Valverde‘s Vittoria deserves admiration for the composure and resolve she displays under trying circumstances, regardless of the minimal screen time she gets. On the whole, ‘Broken Horses‘, is nothing but “Parinda” with western actors and without the same impact. While “Parinda” was a brilliant gangster movie and way ahead of its time, this one doesn’t impress as much. That isn’t saying “Broken Horses” is a bad film; it’s more than a decent crime story, and can even be enjoyed to a moderate extent. But the fact that it’s an adaptation of what could easily be considered among Indian cinema’s 10 finest films ever, and the very same Director – an ace filmmaker no less – who helmed that film comes up short in this adaptation; stirs a level of frustration within you, especially for those who loved “Parinda“. Watch it if you’re keen on seeing what the first Hollywood film written, directed, and produced by an Indian filmmaker is like. Else, just treat yourself by re- watching “Parinda” all over again. ‘Broken Horses’ ends up as a job half done but not for the lack of resources at hand. Chopra’s attempt deserves attention, if only he can learn from it and deliver the next time.
Director – Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Rated – R
Run Time – 101 minutes