Broken Hill Review

On a weekly basis, movies are released into theaters or straight to DVD that are soulless and have no aspirations other than making money. Sometimes, however, I run into movies that want to be something more and have a positive message, but they don't have a clue how to make a good movie. Broken Hill falls into the latter category. The characters are stereotypical and the plot is full of overused tropes, but there is nothing to hate about it. Broken Hill is for young children, parents looking for clean entertainment, and conservative grandparents. I don't say that meaning to insult the film or those demographics. If you fall into those groups, it might be worth a look, but if you don't, you probably won't enjoy Broken Hill. It's as simple as that.

Broken Hill is about Tommy (Luke Arnold), a young aspiring composer who gets an audition for a prestigious Australian music conservatory. Unfortunately, he can't seem to find musicians who can play his songs the way he hears them in his head. In a twist of fate, he damages his spotless criminal record trying to impress Kat (Alexa Vega), a beautiful girl who won't give him the time of day, and Tommy and Kat have to do community service work together. Tommy decides to revive a music program at the local prison and teaches the prisoners how to play his compositions. He wants to use an upcoming prison music showcase as his audition for the music conservatory, but several obstacles stand in his way including his father (Timothy Hutton) who thinks Tommy's composing is a waste of time.

First off, there are some positive elements of Broken Hill. The acting is not completely painful, and some people will love the fact that Luke Arnold looks a lot like a young Michael Landon from Little House on the Prairie. Parents will like the movie's messages about the dangers of peer pressure, working hard for your dreams, and seeing the value in other people's talents. Tommy is a very selfish character for most of the movie, and he wants to use the prisoners to play his music instead of listening to the kind of music they can play. When a drummer plays a solo on a plastic barrel, Tommy takes away the barrel and shoves timpani mallets into his hands. As the band continues to play together, Tommy starts to put his ego aside and works with the prisoners to make better music together. His transformation serves as a great moral lesson.

Like many other moral-driven films, however, Broken Hill falls into heavy-handed storytelling and unrealistic characters and scenarios. For example, the character of Kat is written very inconsistently. At the beginning of the film, she is extremely unkind and laughs at Tommy's failure at the school talent show. Later on, she plays her family's piano and tells Tommy that she has taken piano lessons which makes no sense considering that she has spent so much time mocking him and his passion for music. The screenwriter might argue that the scene with Kat playing the piano at home fleshes out her character and gives her depth, but it felt like her character was only changing so that they could play a love angle with her and Tommy later on.

The week before watching Broken Hill, I watched the highly-acclaimed documentary Young@Heart which followed a senior citizen choir as they struggle to learn modern rock and alternative songs for an upcoming concert. Tommy in Broken Hill, like the singers in Young@Heart, is learning to appreciate a kind of music that he does not consider to be higher art, but in both films, it is the rehearsal process that changes minds and hearts. Young@Heart shows these changes in quiet, subtle ways, and Broken Hill is much more obvious and less creative in how they show it. In the end, Broken Hill is not a terrible movie. I don't have any ill feelings towards it, but I know that the subject matter could have been done so much better with more competent filmmakers behind the camera and more skilled actors in front.

DVD Bonus Features

The DVD release includes an audio commentary track with the writer and director Dagen Merrill, producer Chris Wyatt, and actress Alexa Vega.

"Broken Hill" is on sale May 17, 2011 and is rated PG. Drama, Romance. Written and directed by Dagen Merrill. Starring Alexa Vega, Luke Arnold, Timothy Hutton.

Rachel Kolb • Staff Writer

I love movies, writing, and breaking into song in public. You can follow me on Twitter @rachelekolb or check out more of my work at


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