Immersed deep within the multicultural surroundings of North London’s Finsbury Park, this intrinsically British drama attempts to evoke the gritty realism that has become a staple of our modern national cinema.
When the death of his father demands he returns to his childhood roots, Jake (Dan Fredenburgh) is reminded of his Jewish heritage and finally must confront the demons he ran away from so many years ago. Jake’s soon to be wed to Zoe (Olivia Williams), a caring and supportive fiancée but his recent family tragedy has started to reveal the cracks of their seemingly perfect relationship. Jake’s midlife crisis becomes the catalyst for a lurid affair with B (Doraly Rosa) a disenfranchised waitress working in a working men’s cafe round the corner from his father’s old shop. B however, has her own domestic troubles, with her life little more than a mundane series of events, consisting of nothing more than her humdrum job and caring for her recently paralysed husband Chester (Paul Bettany), a former boxer who now relies on her support but who finds it difficult to accept his dependency. All four characters are thrust unwillingly into a downward spiral of deceit and betrayal with little chance of salvation for anyone involved.
Offering a taste of contemporary London Life, Broken Lines manages to capture the zeitgeist of the individual clusters of communities which compromise life within the capital. Offering a haunting depiction of suburban living, Sallie Aprahamian’s debut feature is unlikely to resonate with an international audience, with its depiction of British life far from the familiar Edwardian town houses and period settings normally associated with the city. Sadly art house patrons may also fail to see past the very obvious correlation with the works of Mike Leigh or Ken Loach, leaving the film with a limited audience. Hindered further through a lack of star power, with the film’s selling point clearly being the presence of Paul Bettany (and to a lesser extent Olivia Williams) these established actors sadly play little more than peripheral character in what unfortunately culminates in an actor’s showcase that lacks any real cinematic panache.
Rosa and Fredenburgh, despite some admirable moments just aren’t powerful enough actors to carry a story as emotionally charged as Broken Lines, perhaps it’s their theatre background or some poor direction but neither actor comfortable within their role. This certainly isn’t helped with there being such well known names waiting in the wings, leaving the audience with the nagging thought of how the film might have turned out had the roles been reversed. Every element of Broken Lines is outshone by Bettany’s deeply emotive performance but even his vivid presence can’t detract from an unoriginal story told through a lacklustre script.
There are some positives to be found, particularly the sombre mood and bleak atmosphere evoked through the poignant cinematography, creating an almost haunting quality which envelopes the story. The underlying melancholy which consumes the central characters is clearly presented and helps the film’s story flow, despite the occasionally laboured pace. Sadly this ever present misery is difficult to escape from, deep rooting itself within the narrative. Surprisingly the film’s more erotically charged scenes are unable to transcend these desolate surroundings, with even the film’s ending feeling like a resigned acceptance of this unforgiving atmosphere of despair.
It’s clear from the outset that Broken Lines is director Sallie Aprahamian first departure from theatre and television and whilst she’s clearly created a realistic backdrop and produced fine performances from Bettany and Williams, the film never manages to rise above the style of a television adaptation of a stage play. A few sporadic injections of cinematic flair could possibly have breathed some much needed life into what unfortunately feels like two hours of gritty British realism and little more – a Kitchen sink drama that’s sadly as dull as dishwater.
Broken Lines is in UK cinemas 30th September 2011.
Director: Sallie Aprahamian
Stars: Paul Bettany, Olivia Williams, Dan Fredenburgh
Runtime: 89 min