Broken Kingdom, the writing and directorial debut of Daniel Gillies (perhaps best known form his role in The Vampire Diaries), finally gets unveiled to the world next week, along with its companion documentary Kingdom Come.
Most of the plot of Broken Kingdom, the narrative film of the two, seems at first glance underwritten—a broken, haggard, haunted man who calls himself “80” (Gillies himself) wanders the streets of Bogota, Colombia, finally falling in with a very young prostitute. Back in the United States, a woman named Marilyn (Rachael Leigh Cook) begins a romantic relationship. That’s about it, for most of the movie.
But what you’re coming for isn’t twists and turns of plot. You’re coming for, in large part, an intriguing atmosphere of mystery and momentousness. There’s a very real, unmanufactured sense that large issues are at play in each of these lives. 80’s agonizing silence and, eventually, Marilyn’s nervous energy, underscore the gravity of the situations, whatever those situations may be.
Gillies is nearly unrecognizable for fans of his role in The Vampire Diaries; his character hides behind greasy bangs, a long bushy beard, and evasive eyes. He’s a writer who’s found it impossible to write, and his frustration and self-loathing virtually drip off the screen. Stony silence is a difficult role to pull off, and in many actors’ hands in comes across as blank and shallow. But Gillies’ soulful performance imbues his struggle with a nobility of spirit that animates what could have been a very forbidding performance. You want to get behind those eyes.
Initially, Marilyn’s awkwardness and halting movements, paired with a vocal delivery that’s somehow at once chirpy and facetious, seem an odd pairing with 80’s character’s struggles (we move continually back and forth between Colombia and the US, and between the two storylines). But before long you realize you’ve been misled, and that all of those mannerisms are so much elaborate misdirection on Marilyn’s part, a compensation mechanism to hide something deeply wrong. What could be causing such anxiety?
One more performance that must be noted is that of the great Seymour Cassel (one of Cassavetes’ favorite actors, among others) as 80’s literary agent Clayton. From the time he walks onscreen, he brings a gravitas, a weight to the whole affair, that signals serious issues to come. And the cinematography is a delight as well. Keiko Nakahara’s work in the Bogota sequences is lush, foreboding, and haunting, while Duane Manwiller’s more restrained touch in the Los Angeles sequences provides a more calm, studied counterpoint.
It’s a film whose world seems to bleed far beyond the borders of its start and end times, a world that seems to exist independently of the film that presents it. But then, Gillies had a lot of time to create that world, and live in it, as he struggled for years to get the film made. Tomorrow you’ll read the review of the documentary that tells that story, but for today, know that Kingdom Come is a deep, moving experience.