Each of three families living on a cul-de-sac in north London is beset with personal setbacks: Archie’s (a calm, steadfast Tim Roth) wife abandoned him and their children for another man, the reticent Buckley’s adult son Rick (Robert Emms) is mentally impaired, and following his wife’s untimely death a devastated Bob Oswald (Rory Kinnear) has three juvenile girls to raise. The physical abuse by one father to Rick, witnessed by pre-teen Skunk (Eloise Laurence), is the external confrontation that inadvertently tangles these lives; albeit their personalities are already broken with this being merely a catalyst.
Archie, a lawyer, at Rick’s dad’s behest tries talking to Bob but is met with undisguised hostility and disregard; deferring to Bob’s circumstances, they acquiesce. Rick’s parents condone his holing up in his room, mom placating so. Skunk gets solace talking to dad, and via the normality of home life: Kasia’s (Zana Marjanovic) nurturing care, Kasia’s boyfriend Mike’s (Cillian Murphy) comfortable friendship even after he becomes her teacher, and a fledgling relationship with Jed (Bill Milner). Meanwhile the culprits, Oswald’s two older teens Susan (Rosalie Kosky-Hensman) and Sunrise (Martha Bryant) continue unchecked distributing mayhem and pain through their lies and behavior. As perimeters shift, unpleasant incidents escalate. Only the strength of a parent’s life-giving bond of love rises above the chaos of damage to bring hope, with survival, for the future.
Based on Daniel Clay’s novel Broken, with a screenplay by Mark O\'Rowe, this is award-winning British stage director Rufus Norris’s film directorial debut. The unconvincing story is studded with nebulous interactions—Kasia, Mike and Archie, incongruent acts—Oswald’s “sudden” proclivity for violence, and inconceivabilities—the Buckley’s apathetic attitude. The stellar casts’ performances are lackluster considering the emotional response these events would demand, and justify. The exception is Eloise Laurence: Her Skunk is likable, smart, tough and centered, wise beyond her years yet sweetly tender as she probes her budding femininity with Jed. Laurence’s nuanced, natural acting debut adds credibility; thankfully she is onscreen often, and definitely on the star-track. The film’s concept is that actions or lack of beget consequences, which may or may not be appropriate or commendable, and rests squarely on individuals’ personal integrity and moral courage. Which is well worth reflection.