Broken Lines (2008) director Sallie Aprahamian has prior directorial credits for the BAFTA-nominated Teachers, This Life and The Sins, and was also hand-picked by writers/lead actors Dan Fredenburgh and Doraly Rosa to take the reins. It proves a wise decision, as her intimate knowledge of North London seen through French DOP Jean-Louis Bompoint’s camera helps to distract from the imperfect script.
Fredenburgh plays Jake, a property developer living in a house owned by his fiancée’s father having lost his own dad recently. After the funeral, Jake escapes to a café where the he meets waitress B (Rosa), and becomes infatuated with her. Jake soon discovers his father’s tailoring shop sees right into her bedroom, where he spots her boyfriend Chester (Paul Bettany), an ex-boxer left partially paralysed following a stroke. Jake and B gravitate towards each other and embark upon an affair, acknowledging the pain they will inevitably cause to Chester and Jake’s uptight fiancée Zoe (Olivia Williams) but not the devastated, desperate reaction of one in particular.
Jake’s and B’s lives are reflected in the emotional state of their partners – just like Zoe’s personality, Jake’s surroundings are stifling and stiff and he sees B as an escape. B gives an air of a strong spirit crippled and tied down to Chester, who’s trapped in his own personal nightmare battling feelings of inadequacy and gender role reversal.
Although Fredenburgh and Rosa play the leads, Bettany and Williams are billed as the stars of Broken Lines. Just as he did in The Da Vinci Code (2006) in a supporting role, Bettany unquestionably outperforms everyone with his portrayal of a frustrated, psychologically demasculinised man who’s allowed his physical condition to cripple his relationship.
Bettany commands every scene he features in as he totally commits to the role, radiating with anger and self-pity, frequently wiping his mouth as a way of avoiding intimacy with B whilst reminding us of his condition. Williams’s portrayal of Zoe is suitably clenched without being robotic, but the part was too small for her given her recent successes.
As Jake’s motivations are difficult to understand, it’s fortunate Fredenburgh had the insight of co-creating the characters to aid his performance but both he and Rosa sometimes fell into the potholes of their own script, as there were some wooden moments with unrealistic dialogue. Jake’s problems are trivial in comparison with B’s and his fascination with her life feels morbid rather than romantic.
Broken Lines is a character-based drama in which London itself plays a part. Being from North London herself, Aprahamian’s direction complements outsider Bompoint’s eye and whilst some may feel the interiors and exteriors were totally disjointed, Aprahamian celebrates London’s eccentricities without the Hollywood gloss or the greying realist palette.
Broken Lines is flawed but affecting, and despite its occasional slips into melodrama Bettany consistently resets the tone, making the film worth seeing for his performance alone.