Brokedown Palace

on August 13, 1999 by Bridget Byrne
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A cautionary tale about the perils of youthful lust for adventure, "Brokedown Palace" is convincingly acted and directed, but confused in heart and mind. Ostensibly a story about the search for truth and justice in the wake of a dire disaster, the script is so busy playing guessing games that it forgets that successful storytelling usually demands a strong point of view.
As two youthful American tourists who should know better but don't, Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale are comfortably on target in their roles. Perhaps just a bit too comfortably. It's not their fault that they still manage to look very fetching in drab prison clothing and slash-and-chop haircuts which by chance are none too far removed from current fashion, and it's not their fault that the script makes much of their lack of real worldliness--whether from ignorance, indifference, self-involvement or lack of ethics. They are both fully capable of playing all that is asked of them; it's just that the script aims for too much without providing the necessary back-up. Too much has to be handled and though director Jonathan Kaplan only wastes a few moments on visual indulgences there is a sense that facts and feelings that would help all the characters to appear more sympathetic have been left out or cut.
So what results is a very unsympathetic portrait of both the American culture which created these girls with their half-baked sensibilities and ideas and an even more unsympathetic portrait of Thailand where the girls are incarcerated, convicted of drug smuggling. The girls' parents are unqualified to be parents; the Yank lawyer (played by Bill Pullman, clearly enjoying the chance to be a touch sleazy) and his Thai wife (attractively played by Jacqueline Kim) are smart and sensible, but not free of opportunism. Most of the Thais are seen as venal and cruel, and the horrors of a foreign prison are depicted by the use of the usual grim guards, disgusting toilets and large cockroaches.
While the will-they-won't-they-get-out-of-jail suspense is keep tense by constant shifts in the who-may-or-may-not-be-telling-the-truth scenario, the sheer complexity of what the filmmakers are struggling to convey ultimately causes the film to eat its own tail. The elements are intelligent and intriguing, but the whole film is surprisingly flat and unsatisfying. Starring Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale and Bill Pullman. Directed by Jonathan Kaplan. Written by David Arata. Produced by Adam Fields. A Fox release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for brief strong language, drug-related material and some violent content. Running time: 100 min
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