Broken (2005) – By Duane L. Martin

 When director/writer Jay Hollinsworth contacted me and wanted to send us his first feature film called Broken, which he created with co-writer Michael Mongillo, I was like, "Ok, well send me the website address so I can check out what the movie’s about and select the best person to write the review. The website wasn’t up yet, and at the time of this writing still isn’t up, but it is coming soon. In it’s place, I was sent a pdf file of a press kit for the film. There wasn’t much in it about the film really as it was more about the people who made it and starred in it, but there was a synopsis there that basically said it was a dark, "lo-fi" comedy about a head trauma, heartbreak and brotherly strife. So naturally the moment I saw the word comedy I knew I’d be taking the review on personally since I’m the most comedy oriented out of all the writers on the Rogue Cinema staff. My address was sent and I promptly received a really creative and slickly put together review copy of the film, velcroed to a mock up of a writing tablet with writing all around the DVD case and a black sharpie that was custom made with the film’s title on it. Very cool indeed. But what of the movie itself?

Well, let me start off by saying this film is not a comedy. There are a few small parts that got a smile but it’s really not a comedy at all. What it actually is is something completely different, which I’ll get to in a minute. First I want to briefly cover what it’s about. I say briefly because there’s really not a lot to say about the story. Much of the story is about a guy who lost his job, had his girlfriend break up with him, lost his apartment, has a tumultuous relationship with his brother and a variety of other problems in his life, not the least of which is that at the end you find out he was shot in the head during a robbery. That brings me to the crux of what this movie actually is, which again, I’ll get to in a moment.

As I sat watching this movie, I kept hoping it would start making sense and have some sense of cohesiveness to it, but as time passed and scene after scene went by, I came to realize that it was probably one of those movies that was weird all the way through and then something at the end happens that reveals the truth and ties everything together. I like to call these kinds of movies "head slappers", because when you see that ending scene that clears everything up you whack yourself in the forehead with your palm and say out loud, "Oh! So that’s what the deal was!" or something similar. Anyway, it was kinda like that for me, but there was another element to it that I didn’t really get until today as I was running over the movie in my head again.

The movie is basically a series of flashbacks and surrealistic scenes all jumbled together, the large majority of which revolve around the main character Todd (Paul Phillips) and his brother Larry (Dick Boland). At the end of the film we find out about the shooting in the convenience store that gave Todd his head trauma and put him in a coma in the hospital. It was only after watching the whole film that I realized the rhyme and the reason behind why it was made the way it was. It’s basically all just a dream that Todd’s having while he’s in his coma, and that’s exactly how the film is laid out.

Think about the dreams you have at night. Generally they’re lacking in coherence as they jump from scene to scene, often containing imagery and events that make little sense to a waking consciousness, but while observed in a dreamstate, everything seems normal, no matter how absurd it is. Among the dream imagery we all experience from time to time, we also have bits mixed in with people we know and even dreams that relate to events we may have experienced with them or that we wish we could have experienced with them. Well that’s this movie in a nutshell. It’s a dream with much of its foundations in events that actually happened, yet peppered with surreal imagery and events that actually didn’t.

When you realize what’s really going on with this film, you also realize what an incredible achievement it is and how difficult it is to make something like that work on the screen. It really does much of the time seem like a dream that was ripped out of someone’s head. The editing and effects used to bring the dream imagery to life were unbelievably well done and there was just a huge amount of talent that went into making it both cohesive and random at the same time, while leaving the viewer wondering what the hell is going on. The editing was just phenomenal as was the writing it took to actually make a film like this work. It could have easily just fallen apart and become a jumbled mess that left the viewer feeling like they just wasted 79 minutes of their life, but fortunately, it didn’t turn out that way.

Aside from the general filmmaking, cinematography, writing and editing all being extremely well done, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the acting. Every person in this movie without exception did a great job with their parts, giving their characters just the right feel and blending themselves into the surrealness of the story perfectly. A task made all the more difficult when you consider that in a film like this, it would be much easier to adjust your character to the feel of the film after you had actually seen the film or had a really detailed idea of what the director was going for. So for these actors to all just "get it" the way they did really speaks to their professionalism and talent.

I on the other hand didn’t get it, and after I watched this film initially I was planning on giving it a mediocre review. Fortunately, being an experienced reviewer, I always wait a while before I write a review about a film like this because sometimes it does take me a little while afterwards to "get it" and to really let the whole thing sink in and analyze what I had seen. Does that make me a thick person just because I didn’t get it right away? Maybe. I can actually be quite thick at times depending on my tiredness level, mood or any number of other mitigating factors. The thing is though, when you come into a movie like this knowing in advance what it is, it’s a lot easier to understand and appreciate than it is when you just come into it cold, not knowing at all what to expect.

Is it a comedy? No. Is it a really cool movie and a great piece of cinematic work when you finally "get it" and really understand what they were trying to acheieve? Yeah, it totally is. The only other question would be, is this film something that anyone could watch and appreciate. Unfortunately, I’d have to say no. While it is really kind of artsy in its presentation, it does lack cohesiveness in the story by it’s very nature and it doesn’t really present you with a linear sort of a storyline that many people might prefer over the general randomness of a film like this. If you can appreciate a film like this, then you’re really going to feel like you watched something cool when it’s all done and over with. If you can’t, then you’ll probably end up feeling like you should have spent your time watching something else. In any case, whether you can appreciate it or not, a hell of a lot of talent went into making this film, and the entire cast and crew should be proud of what they accomplished.

If you’d like to find out more about this film, you can check out the film’s website at