Brokedown Palace (1999)

Written by John Chard on July 18, 2014

That's all freedom is... an illusion.

Two carefree teenage girls are jailed in Thailand for allegedly smuggling Heroin while on vacation.

It has become the stuff of reality nightmares, seemingly every year there is the reports of foreigners abroad caught smuggling drugs. Quite often the innocence is starkly protested, claims of being duped or threatened into being drug mules through customs borders. Brokedown Palace is an interpretation of one such instance.

There's a viable complaint about the film that it condenses the harsh realities of the surroundings, this "Brokedown Palace" is not portrayed as the dirty hell holes they so often are in reality. This initially gives the film a sort of false feel, that we are being fed a watered down Hollywood production of something very serious.

However, looking deeper into the picture as a character piece, Jonathan Kaplan's film beats a mighty heart and has brain staying power as well. Claire Danes and Kate Beckinsale (both superb) are the two friends at the centre of this mystery. Story is more concerned with how their friendship copes under the trying circumstances. Through the initial shock of their situation, to the faux trial, the interactions with others and the relationship they have with their American lawyer, Hank the Yank (Bill Pullman). There's also the not small matter that one of the girls might actually be guilty as charged? Which really gives the piece an intriguing kick.

Unfortunately it falls down in other areas. How come the girls are perfectly coiffured? Quite often splendidly attired in cosmetics? As Kaplan strains for authenticity in human interactions, he loses credibility elsewhere because these two girls look like actors who have had a "don't make me look ugly" clause inserted into their contracts. Ultimately when the story is dialled into the two girls and their friendship, Brokedown Palace hits the heights required, elsewhere it's a disappointment and it's not hard to understand why the two lead actresses practically disowned the film shortly after their publicity commitments were over. 6/10