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According to its publicity materials, filmmakers James Cameron and Alfonso Cuaron have described Broken Horses as “an artistic triumph” and “overwhelming” respectively. It only serves to demonstrate that of the many prodigious talents these esteemed directors possess, film criticism isn’t among them.
Notable Bollywood producer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra, whose credits include the hugely successful 3 Idiots and PK, makes a highly uneasy transition to American films with this weirdly baroque modern-day Western that, while it boasts undeniably imaginative visual and plot flourishes, is far too absurd to take seriously.
After a brief prologue set in Texas near the Mexican border some fifteen years ago in which a young boy sees his sheriff father (Thomas Jane) gunned down by an unknown assassin, the action shifts to the present day. The boy, Buddy (Chris Marquette), has grown into a mentally challenged young man who works as a hired killer for local gangster Julius (Vincent D’Onofrio), whose base of operations is an abandoned (but apparently still functional) run-down movie theater called “The Alamo.”
Meanwhile, Buddy’s younger brother Jacob (Anton Yelchin), who decamped to Manhattan years earlier and hasn’t been back since, is now a concert violinist auditioning for the New York Philharmonic and preparing to marry the beautiful Vittoria (Maria Valverde). Guilt-ridden over having abandoned his sibling, he returns to the Texas town where Buddy, flush with his ill-gotten gains, has built him a beautiful lakeside ranch emblazoned with a large sign reading “Jakey’s Ranch.” It isn’t long before Jacob finds himself enmeshed in the region’s violence, even killing one of Julius’ henchmen in self-defense.
The story gets far more complicated from there, as Jacob, desperate to rescue Buddy from his criminal employer’s clutches, pretends to join Julius’ gang even while forging a secret alliance with his Mexican arch-rival (Jordi Caballero). Julius soon gets wind of the plot, setting of a violent chain of events which inevitably lead to a tragic conclusion.
Chopra and co-screenwriter Abhijat Joshi clearly demonstrate a fondness for American westerns — the film’s cinematographer, Tom Stern, is a longtime Clint Eastwood collaborator — but they’ve refracted the tropes here through a bizarre prism that is as audacious as it is plain silly. From the legless character (Sean Patrick Flanery) wheeling around in a motorized chair while warming his dilapidated abode with a fiery barrel to the intercutting between the gory gunshots and the juicing of oranges, the film seems to be aiming for a surreal quality that it never manages to pull off successfully.
There is one exception, namely a beautiful shot of a white horse fleeing the confines of a burning building that has a gloriously hallucinatory effect.
Marquette is unpersuasive as the childlike, violent Buddy, not managing to make such lines as “I’ll kill him, and then I’ll wake him up and kill him again” remotely convincing. Yelchin mainly walks through the proceedings as if in a daze (not without good reason, admittedly), while D’Onofrio is clearly enjoying chewing up the scenery as the drawling, Stetson-wearing villain.
Production: Vinod Chopra Productions
Cast: Anton Yelchin, Chris Marquette, Vincent D’Onofrio, Maria Valverde, Jordi Caballero, Thomas Jane, Sean Patrick Flanery
Director: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Screenwriters: Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Abjhijat Joshi
Producers: Vidhu Vinod Chopra, Subhash Dhar
Executive producers: Amitabh Jhunjhunwala, David Hoberman, Todd Lieberman, Daniel Stillman
Director of photography: Tom Stern
Production designer: Toby Corbett
Editor: Todd E. Miller
Costume designer: Mary Vogt
Composer: John Debney
Casting: Kerry Barden, Paul Schnee
Rated R, 101 min.
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