Broken Vessels

dir Scott Ziehl
scr David Baer, John McMahon, Scott Ziehl
with Jason London, Todd Field, Roxana Zal, Susan Traylor, James Hong, Patrick Cranshaw, Brent David Fraser, David Baer, Stephanie Feury, Dave Nelson, William Smith, Ashley Rhey
99/US 3 out of 5 stars

Review by Rich Cline
With a gritty visceral style, Scott Ziehl's Broken Vessels follows its characters to the depths of addiction without flinching. It's a gripping film, always on the move and unafraid to touch on some very dark sides of human behaviour, even if it's not quite as earth-shattering as it seems to think it is. But there's some terrific stuff in here, and it marks Ziehl as a director to watch.

Tom (London) has come to Los Angeles from Pennsylvania, all wide-eyed and innocent-looking. But we soon realise he's not nearly as nave as he seems. Inexperienced but certified, he gets a job as an EMT in an ambulance alongside Jimmy (Field), a paramedic with a serious dark side that starts off as quirky but soon descends into hard drug use and crime. Tom goes along with this, jeopardising his job and a budding relationship with Elizabeth (Zal). And we soon discover that he's trying to escape demons from his past.

Much of the film takes place in the ambulance, as Tom and Jimmy race from callout to callout. None of these are done as big set pieces (this isn't ER or Bringing Out the Dead), they're merely texture, adding to the creepy, edgy, blackly funny feel of the film. The plot itself is by-the-book and unremarkable (some plot turns are simplistic and/or preachy), but the film's themes are astonishing as it digs into dependency on drugs and people, morality and moralising, and the difficulty of reversing a downward spiral. And the colourful characters (including Traynor's speed-freak neighbour and Cranshaw's heroin-addict grandpa) help bring it all to life, along with Ziehl's ability to capture authentic people in an offbeat way.

[18--strong themes and situations, drug use, language, violence] 25.May.00
US release 2.Jun.99; UK release 2.Jun.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall