Friday, April 10, 2015


Release date:
April 10, 2015
Vidhu Vinod Chopra


Chris Marquette, Anton Yelchin, Vincent D’Onofrio, Maria Valverde, Sean Patrick Flanery

Twenty six years after the release of his seminal Bollywood gangster film Parinda, writer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra has remade it for Hollywood.

Broken Horses is visually spectacular. It is also interestingly told for a part of its running time. But like that beautiful white horse endlessly galloping around its pen on Jakey’s Ranch in the film, after a point the realisation dawns that as much as its grace and elegance are enjoyable to watch, it’s going nowhere you haven’t been before.  

Jakey or Jacob Heckum is a musician in New York and the younger of the two brothers around whom this story revolves. The elder brother Buddy is a slow-witted man who has been working since his childhood with the local crime lord Julius Hench in their home town somewhere near the US-Mexico border. The siblings are loosely modelled on Kishan and Karan from Parinda.

This is a unique experiment – a director from the world’s most prolific film-producing nation, India, re-telling his own story in what he considers the style of the world’s most dominant film industry, Hollywood. Parinda was insightful and moving. Back in 1989, its realistic tone was also pathbreaking for a mainstream film from the Mumbai-based Hindi film industry a.k.a. Bollywood. The story was about a poverty-stricken boy turning to crime to give his little brother a better life. Unknown to Karan, Kishan works for the underworld don Anna. When Anna kills an adult Karan’s friend, Karan joins the gang to take revenge, much against the wishes of Kishan who wanted to shelter him from that world.

While Buddy in Broken Horses too is keen to provide for Jakey, the thrust of this new story is the manner in which Julius uses Buddy’s disability to manipulate him and how Jakey too is driven to manipulativeness in a bid to save his guileless brother from the older man’s clutches.

Chopra has chosen the Western genre for his Hollywood debut and manages to lend an old-world feel to the proceedings, although it is a contemporary tale. The stark desert setting heightens the sense of the protagonists’ isolation in this ominous, near-lawless world away from the world.

The first half of the film trots along at an engaging pace. There are enough twists to keep interest alive, some endearing interactions between the two brothers and chills to be suffered while witnessing Julius’ grip over his blindly loyal protege. Will it ever be possible to release him from that vice-like psychological hold? That question is a source of tension through most of the film.

Somewhere along the way though, the writing (by Chopra and Abhijat Joshi) gives way, betraying an absolute lack of heft in comparison with the original. And too many plot points and sub-plots have not been thought through or have been lazily manufactured to fit into the pre-determined basic storyline. For instance, it is never clear why Jakey stayed away for so many years from his home town and the brother for whom he is now willing to sacrifice his life and job. When Jakey does return home after all those years and decides to stay on for a while to rescue Buddy, why does he not phone his fiancee back in New York to tell her so? Why, instead, does he stop taking her calls, even though he has not given up on their relationship? Later, it becomes clear that this silly contrivance was designed to get the fiancee too to come over, possibly to give the story its lone woman character of somewhat significance.

The beauty of Parinda was that it was straightforward, believable and unpretentious. Broken Horses, however, is clearly aiming at a grandeur that it repeatedly achieves at the visual level but never in its storytelling. DoP Tom Stern – a Clint Eastwood regular – serves up many splendid images. One particularly intriguing shot has Julius in what seems like a split screen until the camera moves and we realise we are seeing his reflection on an unexpectedly clear surface in the foreground. Jakey’s Ranch too is a pretty, fairytale-like, almost surreal affair – standing in for that boat carrying Karan and his bride Paro a quarter of a century back.

The enjoyment of the visuals is diluted by the fact that some of them are designed purely for their eyecatching effect with no thought given to their significance, and others are holding out to be profound though they are not. At one point, a murderous spree in a theatre is interspersed with repeated shots of another character squeezing out the juice of an orange. What on earth was that about? And while Jakey’s trouserless fiancee in a crisp white shirt riding a white stallion makes for a stunning picture in the evening light, a mundane thought strikes: that saddle must hurt, no?

Despite this rocky path, Stern never gives up on the film. Nor do actors Chris Marquette and Vincent D’Onofrio. Buddy is played sweetly by Marquette who pulls off the challenging balance of being a wide-eyed innocent with a shockingly violent streak. D’Onofrio’s calling card in India would be his brilliant turn as an NYPD detective on the TV show Law and Order: Criminal Intent. In Broken Horses, he merrily sinks his teeth into the brutish drug kingpin Julius whose fear of flames can be traced back to his wife and child’s death. In contrast, Anton Yelchin – a familiar face from the 2009 Star Trek film and its sequel – seems convinced that his cutesy, curly mop of hair is a good substitute for acting. He appears to expend no effort at all on Jakey.

Chopra has been quoted in The Hindu newspaper as saying that he spent five years writing Broken Horses. Clearly it was not enough. If only he had put more thought into his screenplay, Broken Horses “coulda’ been a contender”, to borrow an iconic line from Terry (Marlon Brando) in the Hollywood classic On The Waterfront that some people saw reflected in Parinda. Instead, what we’ve got here is a film that is pleasing to the eye, agreeable up to a point for a single viewing but sadly unmemorable. Broken Horses is unworthy of being deemed a Parinda remake.

Rating (out of five): **1/2

CBFC Rating (India):
Running time:
MPAA Rating (US):
102 minutes
R (rated R for violence and language)
Release date in US:
April 10, 2015

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