Directed: Vidhu Vinod Chopra
Star cast: Chris Marquette, Anton Yelchin, Vincent D’Onofrio
Twenty Five years later, Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Parinda has returned as Vidhu Vinod Chopra’s Broken Horses, with Mexico’s dust bowls replacing Mumbai’s mean streets, a ranch on a lake replacing a crucial boat, two brothers joined by love and circumstances now also tied by a slight mental disability, and a lot less blood and a lot more conscious style.
So while Chopra’s ‘Parinda’ was a pathbreaker in 1989, giving the first gritty portrayal of the underworld in Bollywood, his first Hollywood venture won’t make any waves on those well-trodden shores. Particularly as Parinda itself drew comparisons with a film that preceded it by three decades, On the Waterfront.
Chopra keeps Broken Horses short and crisp at around 100 minutes, and its violence precise and clipped, a welcome break from similar films that thrive on their glorious celebration of blood. However, with a wisp of a backstory and an embarrassingly simple front one, its largely solid acting can only get it accolades it for its ambition.
‘Somewhere near the Mexico border’, a sheriff is killed while admiring how good a shot his elder son, Buddy — otherwise considered rather “slow” — is. The younger one, Jacky, is more inclined towards violin than guns, and is safely at school at the time.
Soon after the funeral, Buddy is paid a visit at the diner where he works by Julius Hench (D’Onofrio), who tells him that “a bad man” killed his father and so he should take revenge.
So while Jacky (now played by a hopelessly out-of-depth, and very hopefully curled-hair Yelchin) heads for New York and the Philharmonic Orchestra, Buddy grows up to be the henchman of Hench. Something keeps Jacky away from his hometown, and while you may think the reason is obvious, apparently the younger one has no clue what his elder brother, who can’t keep no secrets, does.
Jacky finds a girl, a pretty Italian no less, to marry, and Buddy calls him home to give him his wedding gift. Soon enough, for reasons that remain unconvincing, things unravel and complicate.
D’Onofrio, modelled after Nana Patekar, is as ruthless and convinced of his own brand of justice, and as afraid of fire since shoving his wife and son into it. One of his “victims” though, a music teacher named Ignacio is so hilariously over the top that one can only be grateful he doesn’t stick around to repeat the story about his missing legs.
The best role is of Buddy, played admirably by Marquette. As the brother who has been shouldering the family manfully but is also acutely aware of his own shortcomings, he is nervous around the smarter Jacky, the powerful Hench, as well as the other smirking henchmen, and always very, very eager to please. It’s a tough balancing act, to be both brave and weak.
Shot by Clint Eastwood’s favourite cameraperson, and with Goodfellas writer Nicholas Pileggi on board as consultant, Broken Horses also gets its settings right, from its dust-track roads and dust-lined vehicles to its one-horse towns.
However, should you keep waiting for all of it to amount to something more, you would be disappointed.
The moral of the story for Chopra: If you want to try something new, perhaps go for something new.