‘Broken Horses’ breaks no new ground in the Western

Fans of Law & Order: Criminal Intent might want to see Vincent D’Onofrio sink his teeth into a juicy part, but this story, “Broken Horses,” is overdone and drier than a desert riverbed on a hot July day.

Directed and co-written (with Abhijat Joshi) by Vidhu Vinod Chopra, this doesn’t have the kind of mystery or presence of that other foreign master of the western, Sergio Leone. You have to appreciate the atmospheric presence of Ennio Morricone’s music and the long takes and great Spanish horses.

Other Asian Westerns have echoed the pathos of the Western even if set in another country like China such as the stylish “The Good, the Bad, the Weird.”

This horse opera has barely the presence of a horse and is set in contemporary times. According to IMDB, the locations were Southern California desert lands–Death Valley and Victorville. Yet the movie is set close to the Mexican border. The title refers to horses that are trained or broken and that part of breaking a horse means caring for it–even when it needs to be put down. Breaking a horse is part of loving a horse well and the person who loves that horse the best should be the one who kills it. Transfer that to people and you have John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” but this tale, “Broken Horses,” has less of the tragic element and literary worth.

The movie begins with a sheriff in a cowboy hat who is joined by his young “slow” son at a gun range by his eldest son, Buddy (Henry Shotwell). Buddy has limp straight brown hair parted in the middle. He warns his father (Thomas Jane) that they will miss the younger boy, Jake’s (Nicholas Neve) violin recital. No one warns the two that an assassin is taking aim.

Soon after the funeral, a man Julius Henchman (David Castro) comes into the diner where Buddy works and tells him who “killed” his father and helps Buddy avenge himself. Was the guy Buddy kills really the man who plugged his father? It’s doubtful.

Buddy remains under the tutelage of kingpin Julius as his assassin. Somehow the younger brother Jakey escapes to New York where he continues his violin playing, even auditioning for the New York Philharmonic. Jakey is living with his Italian girlfriend, Vittoria (Maria Valverde) when his brother asks him to return home to their small town in the middle of the desert because he can’t wrap up his wedding present.

Buddy’s dream is to quit his job working at the local cinema and taking care of Jakey and Vittoria’s kids. That doesn’t play so well with Julius who has already punished Jakey’s old violin teacher.

There are moments that are visually stunning, but that doesn’t make up for the one hour and 40 minutes of awkward dialogue and flat tension that is only relieved by moments of violence. If there’s a future where Bollywood Westerns replace spaghetti Westerns, then we’ll need something a bit spicier than “Broken Horses.” Fans of D’Onofrio will be better served watching him on Netflix in “Daredevil.”

“Broken Horses” is currently playing at the ArcLight Hollywood, the Cinemark 18 and the Laemmle Town Center 5.

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