(l-r) Anton Yelchin as Jacob, Vincent D’Onofrio as Julius and Christopher Marquette as Buddy in Broken Horses. (Reliance Entertainment/Vinod Chopra Films)
Stereotypically, Indian Bollywood films are viewed by American audiences as glitzy, over-the-top trifles, filled with colorful costumes, elaborate dance numbers, and over-the-top romantic schmaltz.
Of course, this belief is mostly wrongheaded, as there are plant of Indian directors capable of making hard-hitting dramas that rival any prestige fare produced stateside. For an example of one such auteur, one needs to look no further than Vidhu Vinod Chopra, the Kashmiri mastermind of the 1989 gangster epic Parinda—a film which some critics consider the Indian Godfather.
Now, 26 years after its release, that seminal work of international cinema is given the Hollywood remake treatment with Broken Horses.
Unlike many re-dos of international properties, Broken Horses was developed and helmed by original director Chopra, who clearly was hoping for an American breakthrough with this flashy, star-studded thriller.
The film follows two Texan brothers, nerdy Jakey (Anton Yelchin) and mentally handicapped Buddy (Christopher Marquette), who go down divergent paths after their father (Thomas Jane) is murdered by gangsters. While Jakey moves to New York and becomes an affected intellectual hipster, Buddy stays behind at the family ranch, where he falls under the sway of Julius Hench (Vincent D’Onofrio), a vicious local crime kingpin.
As Jakey prepares to marry his sweetheart Vittoria (Maria Valverde), he receives an invitation from Buddy to return home in order to receive a lavish wedding gift. However, when Jakey arrives, he quickly realizes that Julius has manipulated Buddy into being a hired killer for his syndicate. When Jakey tries to intervene, Julius convinces Buddy that he needs to kill his own brother to ensure the safety of the ranch, thus leading to a violent outbreak of sibling rivalry with deadly consequences.
I’ll be blunt here: the vast majority of American audiences, as well as critics, are almost certain to dislike this film. That being said, most of the reasons I think the mass populace wouldn’t enjoy it are the very reasons I did have fun with this film.
Broken Horses is a fascinating exercise in bending national identities on celluloid. That is to say, it’s a Bollywood film that happens to take place in America, star American actors, and look for all intents and purposes like an American film—a Samosa in a hamburger bun, if you will. What that means is, like any good Indian epic, Horses is tonally all over the map, stubbornly refusing to settle on a single genre.
One minute, Chopra shows us a gruesomely grave shoot-out in stark slow motion; the next he expects us to guffaw at the childlike antics of a mentally handicapped man-child. In another sequence, Jakey’s wheelchair-bound music teacher Ignacio (Sean Patrick Flannery), uses a giant flaming barrel to warm up his shack while rolling around in what appears to be an office chair.
Overwrought melodrama and ham-fisted symbolism abounds, all helped along by a uniquely foreign sense of morality and family values that doesn’t quite gel with what we expect Stateside.
All that being said, I found this movie enjoyable because it didn’t just plug flat cliches into the traditional three act structure like the vast majority of mainstream studio crime pictures these days. I legitimately didn’t know what to expect next because the form and style of Horses was so deliriously off-the-wall. I have to respect a movie where images of men being torn to pieces by bullets are juxtaposed with a lengthy shot of fresh Oranges being squeezed to make juice.
Though this grand experiment is not likely to work on any large scale, I for one have to applaud the director’s confidence in his own unique vision. As opposed to many foreign auteurs who curb their sensibilities to fit the Western cookie-cutter mold, Vidhu Chopra stuck to his incredibly weird and mostly alienating guns even when he reached the big show.
Broken Horses opens at the Arclight Hollywood, Cinemark 18, Town Center 5 in Encino, and Edwards Westpark 8 in Orange county.
Reliance Entertainment/Vinod Chopra Films
Now in theaters.
Films are rated on a scale of 5 stars (must-see), 4 stars (exceptional), 3 stars (solid), 2 stars (average) and 1 star (unworthy).