Review by Michael Jacobson
Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Pullman, Lou Diamond Phillips, Daniel
Director: Jonathan Kaplan
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: Talent Files, Theatrical Trailer
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: February 15, 2000
I might as well give up my supposed rule about not
comparing a film I’m viewing to another one I’ve seen in the past.
I never can follow it anyway. I
tried to watch Brokedown Palace with a fresh point of view, but I’ll be damned if
I couldn’t stop from thinking to myself more than once, “Diet Midnight
Which is not to say that this picture doesn’t have its
share of favorable attributes, not the least of which are the performances by
the two female leads. But both Midnight
Express and the more recent Return to
Paradise cast too great a shadow over this movie, which doesn’t have quite
enough of its own light to shine through and create its own image.
Alice (Danes) and Darlene (Beckinsale) are fresh out of
high school with, as Yogi Berra would say, their whole futures ahead of them.
The long time best friends had planned a summer trip to Hawaii, but at
Alice’s suggestion, they head for Thailand instead…a seemingly exotic locale
where they can spend a summer having fun for a pittance of cash.
They decide not to tell their parents about their change in
While there, they decide to pose as wealthy tourists to
swim in a luxury hotel’s pool. They
even charge drinks to a false room number…second mistake. They are helped out of a tight jam by a friendly Australian
fellow, Nick (Lapaine). After a few
fun filled days together, forming a new friendship (and possibly sticky romantic
attachments), they take him up on his offer to fly them to Hong Kong.
They trust him…third mistake.
While waiting to board the plane, they are seized by Thai
authorities. One of their bags is
harboring several kilos of cocaine. And
the nightmare begins.
It’s interesting how much the true element of horror has
changed in our culture over the years. When
we go see a mask wearing killer or a haunted house, we shriek in fun.
But the notion of being trapped in a foreign land, where American justice
means nothing and a crime like drug smuggling can mean death and
torture…that’s truly terrifying. And
we experience it all through these girls’ eyes.
They don’t speak the language. One
gets tricked into signing a confession she thought was merely her statement. There’s no phone call, no legal rights. They had drugs in their possession, and they were leaving the
country. Open and shut case, and
soon both girls are “lucky” to be facing a sentence of only 33 years.
The only glimmer of salvation comes in the form of an
American lawyer known as “Hank the Yank” (Pullman). He listens to a tape of their story made by Alice.
He is both intrigued and skeptical.
He’s never quite sure if he believes their story about the young man
who maliciously used them, then seemed to vanish without a trace.
There is a retrial…a scene where Hank’s wife has to
quietly translate for the girls what is being said, as their fates are being
decided. But no matter how innocent
they may be of anything apart from being naïve and stupid, the fact of the
matter is they were found with the drugs on them. That would be hard to overlook, even in an American court.
The rest of the picture falls along familiar lines,
including the obligatory attempted escape sequence, the run ins with a fellow
prisoner who seems out to make trouble for the American girls, and the
underhanded dealings that continually fall through.
One way in which this film falls short of its predecessors is in its
failure to truly convey the horrors of a foreign prison.
Perhaps because the lead characters are female, the decision was made to
generally avoid the scenes of violence that were so stomach-churning in Midnight
Express. Maybe it was the right
choice, but still…I felt an important aspect of the story had been glossed
over. It’s kind of hard to
imagine a film could deal with this subject matter and still manage a PG 13
And I’m still in debate with myself over the ending of
the picture, which I won’t reveal here. In
one respect, I was pleased that the film had the courage to defy the typically
scripted ending for such a scenario, but at the same time, I found the choice of
resolution a little hard to accept. It
was emotional, but not entirely believable or palatable.
Claire Danes is wonderful as the forceful, determined
Alice, in a performance that hearkens back to her better days of Romeo and Juliet rather than her misguided Mod Squad episode. The
lovely Kate Beckinsale is equally good as Darlene, the more gullible and perhaps
weaker of the two. Their work is
the best aspect of the film.
In the end, the picture didn’t leave me cold, but rather,
kind of lukewarm. Structurally, it
seemed unable to break from the mold of Midnight
Express, and only ended up limiting itself in the long run.
Typical Fox transfer…good, but not great. No anamorphic enhancement, but generally speaking, this is a quality transfer from a clean print, featuring sharp, crisp images throughout and only a light smattering of noticeable grain from time to time. Overall, I’d say the coloring was maybe a click less bright than I would have liked, including the many daylit outdoor scenes in Thailand. Everything seemed just a shade less than truly natural…not a major complaint, just noteworthy.
The 5.1 soundtrack is mostly good, but unspectacular, with
only a few scenes offering real dynamic counterpoint to the flat level dialogue
and din sequences.
Just some talent files and a trailer, though the menus have
animation and sound.
Brokedown Palace doesn’t offer much new. The performances are good, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that this story has been done before, and better.