Brokedown premise

In which some charming characters are undone by a flawed script.

ALICE (CLAIRE DANES) and Darleen (Kate Beckinsale) decide to go to Thailand instead of Hawaii after graduation—and it's there that their troubles begin. After a few delirious days of glorious sights, Alice and Dar meet a cute Australian guy named Nick, who gets romantic with Dar and starts to put a wedge into the girls' relationship. Then Nick invites them both to go to Hong Kong for a day; while in line at the airport, customs officials sweep in and find canisters full of heroin in Alice's backpack. The girls are arrested and interrogated. Dar is convinced to sign a document she thinks is her statement but is actually a confession, and both are sent to a Thai women's prison (the "brokedown palace" of the title).

Brokedown Palace

directed by Jonathan Kaplan

starring Claire Danes, Kate Beckinsale, Bill Pullman

opens August 13 at Metro, City Center, and others

Up to this point, the movie has been narrated by a tape recording that Alice has sent to an as- yet-unidentified man (Bill Pullman), who is now revealed to be "Yankee Hank," a semishady lawyer who specializes in naive Americans unable to cope with the Thai justice system. He takes their case, and here Brokedown Palace shifts gears, becoming a kind of legal procedural with some side trips exploring Alice and Dar's relationship. Unfortunately, this relationship turns out to be the movie's strongest point; the more plot-driven story elements swiftly become manipulative courtroom nonsense, leading up to a god-awful showdown between Hank and a high-placed Thai official, in which Hank—now working not for money but out of kindness—threatens to get Barbara Walters to do a story on these two lost little girls and thus raise the ire of America.

Which is too bad, because Brokedown Palace has a lot of virtues, not the least of which is Claire Danes. She can express a combination of emotions that, in most people, would be mutually exclusive; she's almost too complex. Kate Beckinsale's performance isn't quite as rich, but she's still got charm to burn, though it was put to better use in Cold Comfort Farm and The Last Days of Disco. Before Pullman gets all noble, he captures a shifty slyness, and Lou Diamond Phillips has some great moments as a DEA agent who seems to really love his job. Director Jonathan Kaplan—who also directed The Accused, which shares a similar focus on women's relationships and the legal system—doesn't overplay some well-written scenes, particularly moments when gaps start to form between the girls, revealing their assumptions about each other.

At the end, one of the characters makes a sacrifice that's supposed to be emblematic of personal redemption, but the cost seems out of proportion with that character's faults. The narrative keeps implying things it never fulfills—for example, the question of who's responsible for putting the drugs in Alice's backpack in the first place is raised but never resolved; this is arguably deliberate, and not the result of some clumsy editing, but like too many other aspects of Brokedown Palace, it doesn't quite satisfy.

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