Film Review: Broken Horses

A recitation of the plot of this violent western turkey sounds more like a failed screwball comedy than any worthy follow-up to the work of Sergio Leone or the Coen Brothers.
Specialty Releases

Taking place somewhere just north of the border, way out west, Broken Horses opens with a sheriff (Thomas Jane) teaching his son Buddy (Henry Shotwell) about gunplay at a shooting range. Another son, Jakey, is giving a violin recital, but Dad never gets to see him play, as he is suddenly shot to death in front of Buddy.

Buddy, who grows up into a troubled but dead-on gunslinger (Chris Marquette), gets raised by the local criminal boss, Julius Hench (Vincent D'Onofrio), who turns him into a hit man, bent on avenging his father. Meanwhile, with Buddy's support for eight years, Jakey (Anton Yelchin) flourishes on the violin to the extent that he moves to New York, where he is auditioning for a job with the Philharmonic, as well as about to marry an Italian girl (Maria Valverde). 

Buddy tells Jakey that he has a special wedding present for him and that he must return home after all these years to receive it. It turns out to be a completely outfitted ranch and home, but it also transpires that Julius wants Jakey dead, so as to protect his very special interest in Buddy. Jakey escapes the hit put out on him by Julius and joins his gang, posing as a NYU student journalist to interview Julius' sworn enemy, Mario Garza (Jordi Caballero), a Mexican gun runner. What Julius doesn't know is that Jakey and Mario have bonded together against him.

Modern-day western-obsessed writer-director Vidhu Vinod Chopra seems bent on outdoing No Country for All Men at all costs, which unfortunately include plot plausibility and a sustainable dramatic tone. A grim weightiness marks his film from its first moments, and you duly try to humor that in hopes of a satisfying if grim entertainment, but Chopra's erratic—to put it mildly—imagination, which often veers into the ludicrous, makes taking any of this seriously an impossibility.

The unintentional laughs begin to well up with the wild introduction of Jakey's legless childhood music teacher (Sean Patrick Flannery), who hilariously wheels into his first scene in what looks like a motorized wheelchair. D'Onofrio's numbing performance, which at times seems like a heavy-bodied, heavy-breathing takeoff on Orson Welles in Touch of Evil (which was already a parody) only adds to the risibility.

The relationship between sensible, sensitive Jakey and the dimwitted Buddy has silly Of Mice and Men overtones, complete with the dream farm that eluded poor Lennie and George. Marquette works overtime at conveying his character's mental slowness and beautiful dumb-animal instincts, but the results are plain embarrassing.

Click here for cast and crew information.