Ben Kelly or “BK” (Steve Le Marquand) was once a Rugby League legend; a local boy that ascended from local park football to national MVP. We’re introduced to BK as a homeless, drunken, gambling addict etching out a parasitic existence in his home town that no longer wants him. When BK encounters Cec (Max Cullen) and his daughter Terri (Claire van der Boom), both huge fans of BK back in his heyday, he gets the necessary push to right his course.
Like The Final Winter before it, Broke farms the fertile ground of Australian Rugby League sporting culture for the big screen; a forum where those two things rarely clash. In a contemporary landscape dominated by the position of sports people as influencers, you’re often given “witch hunt” media campaigns for players who show moral weakness. Broke descends into and gets intimate with the uncomfortable reality.
There’s something wonderful about writer/director’s Heath Davis’ Broke that calls back to Puberty Blues. It’s a portrayal of a particular Australiana that’s so specific and unbearably stereotypical that if you hadn’t experienced it, you wouldn’t realise that it’s very authentic. Gladstone in Queensland is the home ground for Broke and provides the perfect setting. The town and its inhabitants feel like they’ve seen better days. Davis shoots Gladstone like a sun bleached husk full of varying degrees of broken people. The businesses that we see thriving are designed to exploit; pawn shops – with Justin Rosniak’s crooked ‘Neck’ in charge, the race track/bookie, the town jail and of course the neon succubus of the bar with “pokies” (poker/slot machines). The town feels sparse and it’s all the more tragic that one of their own sporting heroes crashed to rock bottom in their home town when Rugby League is the campfire that brings the town together. If there’s a stumbling block with Broke, it’s that the outcome for BK (Le Marquand) had a poetic convenience. There are all too few moments of kindness that befall Kelly in his current state, prior to meeting Cec and Terri. Those moments seem to karmically come back to haunt him in his pursuit to redeem his situation. The destination for the character is essential; just perhaps how the threads of the story ultimately intertwined to get there that momentarily sour the well constructed and contained story up to the finale.
Steve Le Marquand comes upon Kelly at the right time in his career, after the volatility in Last Train to Freo, the heartbreak of Men’s Group or hilarious turns tripping over counters in bank heists in Two Hands; he and BK have some miles on them. Le Marquand delivers a raw and unapologetically uneducated portrayal of BK, stuck in the fallout of bad decisions past. Davis loads Broke with second chance stories. Max Cullen’s Cec is out for redemption too; attempting to bring the derailed BK back on track as penance for his perceived failures with his own son. Cullen plays Cec with a quiet tenderness that’s so welcome in a town almost universally hostile toward BK. Claire van der Boom’s Terri idolised BK and getting him in front of her is a novelty. Van der Boom brings BK to the reality that his descent wasn’t just the flap of a butterfly’s wings but a crack in the tectonic plates of the town. Their interaction quickly becomes solace for the two and Van Der Boom does such a great job with Terri grasping the opportunity with abandon. Cullen and Van Der Boom continue to surprise you with the trajectory of Cec and Terri.
Broke shows that writer/director Heath Davis left nothing on the field with this ambitious debut.
Blake Howard – follow Blake on Twitter here: @blakeisbatman
Directed by: Heath Davis
Written by: Heath Davis
Starring: Steve Le Marquand, Max Cullen, Claire van der Boom, Steve Bastoni, Brendan Cowell, Pippa Grandison, Damian Hill, Stephanie May, Matthew McCracken, Ben Taylor, Justin Rosniak,
Steve Le Marquand … Ben Kelly
Max Cullen … Cec
Claire van der Boom … Terri
Steve Bastoni … Sherro
Brendan Cowell … Dirk
Pippa Grandison … Duty Manager
Damian Hill … Lionel
Stephanie May … Babysitter
Matthew McCracken … Cop 1
Justin Rosniak … Neck
Ben Taylor … Young Cop