Broken Horses review: There's something off about Vidhu Vinod Chopra's remake of Parinda
Director-producer Vidhu Vinod Chopra's Parinda remains one of the greatest films in the history of Indian cinema. The characters, aesthetics, the dark noir atmosphere, the deafening silences, the electric antagonist, the hapless protagonists – everything about this film was unforgettable. It was also way ahead of its time and audiences who were used to the nutty cinematic cacophony of the ’80s found it hard to accept such a film. Parinda is a cult favourite and a reminder of how far Indian filmmaking can go if it veers just a little out of the commercial zone.
Chopra has since become a household name, more so for producing some of the biggest blockbusters of the country. Twenty five years on, he attempts a crossover to Hollywood with a remake of Parinda, but to significantly less stellar effect.
The setting has been changed from Mumbai noir to a cowboy Western, but the story is almost the same. Two brothers are orphaned after their father, the sheriff of a rural town in New Mexico, is shot dead.
The older brother Buddy joins a gang while the younger one is sent away to New York to study. Years later Jacob, the younger one comes home for a visit and is shocked to discover Buddy has been working for a mob boss all this time. After an assassination attempt against him goes wrong, Jacob decides to dismantle the gang and run away with Buddy.
The problem with the setup is that it belongs in the ’80s. In Parinda, it is acceptable because you know it’s a film from that era. Assigning those dated elements to a modern movie feels out of place and mawkish, especially if the film is taking itself very seriously. Sure, the script has been updated by Abhijat Joshi and Chopra to fit into the Western milieu, but the strain of manipulative and ‘filmi’ Bollywood DNA remains evident.
Buddy is played by Chris Marquette, with over-the-top emotional resonance to reflect a childlike person stuck in the body of an adult. The idea is fine, but the execution is somehow jarring. Buddy’s overwrought crying and anger is less powerful and more in the unintentionally hilarious territory. Jacob is played by Anton Yelchin, with very little emotion, whether it’s on his face or in his body language. It’s almost like Yelchin’s invisible, which is strange since he’s generally so good as an actor. The contrast between the two is weird, especially because they’re both tonally off.
The mob boss Julius Hench is played by the great Vincent D’Onofrio, but with absolutely no fire or threat. This is the guy who could scare your socks off with a simple grin in Full Metal Jacket or with a giggle in The Cell, and he’s shockingly staid here. His steely, manipulative persona falls flat and he doesn’t seem dangerous even when he’s holding a gun to someone’s face. The romantic angle has been Hollywoodized as well, which unfortunately means the brutal ending of Parinda is given a pyrrhic makeover. There's something off about the whole thing, where it becomes difficult to connect to or care for anything in the film.
The New Mexico setting is operatic to say the least. The gang is stationed in a movie theater, no less. Jacob’s test of murdering someone happens in a projection room for no reason, but to induce a meta moment and add some snazzy fluttering imagery.
The meaning behind Broken Horses turns out to be heavy handed, as does the motif of a white horse running away from gunfire. The film also moves at an extremely slow pace, leaving the seemingly uninterested actors with the task of doing the heavy lifting. The sense of dread just isn’t strong enough and the story never develops into something out of predictable territory. Nothing about the film warrants the indulgent pacing.
The one thing that the film has going for itself is the cinematography by Clint Eastwood’s regular cinematographer, Tom Stern. Everything, including the aforementioned projector room scene, looks gorgeous and dark. The foreboding atmosphere is strong enough to smell, but it isn’t backed up by effective storytelling.
It’s difficult to pinpoint whom the film is for – it won’t fans of the original film and neither will it captivate Indians or foreigners who aren’t familiar with Parinda. Instead of taking on a life of its own, Broken Horses only reminds you of a much better film we’ve all seen before.
Updated Date: Apr 13, 2015 10:43:16 IST