Broken Vessels

                    Scott Ziehl reportedly decided he had to make a movie built
            around some sort of vehicle. He chose an ambulance for its "visual
            and symbolic power". Upon further research, he discovered that
            emergency medical technicians tended to be recent college graduates,
            working for little pay yet because of the uniforms and other
            accouterments (like blazing sirens) they are imbued with almost
            mythic powers. In an effort to dispel those beliefs, he set about working
BROKEN VESSELS, a gritty, depressing character study of two
            young EMTs in Los Angeles. Tom (Jason London) appears to be a
            clean-cut, wholesome lad who has moved from Pennsylvania to
            Los Angeles. He charms his way into working for Mr. Chen (James
            Hong), the owner of a fleet of ambulances. Tom is partnered
            with Jimmy (Todd Field, who did double duty as a co-producer),
            a loose cannon who serves as id to Tom's ego.

                    Scripted by Ziehl, David Baehr and John McMahon, the film may
            be seen as a cautionary tale gone awry. It is meant to be a trip to
            hell as experienced by Tom with Jimmy as his guide. Field makes
            the veteran driver a powerful figure — he's that person who through
            sheer force of manipulation gets the weak to do his bidding. Sensing
            that vulnerability in London's Tom, Jimmy strikes and entices his
            protégé with drugs, wanton sex and petty thievery. He also makes
            ironic fun of his stoned out neighbor Suzy (an over-the-top Susan
            Traylor) yet shows his tender side dealing with Gramps (Patrick
            Cranshaw), an elderly addict. Of course, there's also the requisite
            good girl (Emmy-winner Roxana Zal, who also served as a producer)
            — someone who is more a plot device than a real character.

                    That's part of the problem with
             off as if the filmmakers couldn't make up their minds exactly what
             kind of movie to make. Is it a slice-of-life melodrama built around
             charismatic but ultimately unredeemable characters? Is it a cautionary
             tale of the effects of stress and drug abuse? A combination of both?
             Or something else entirely? Yet there is something to the film; I
             found I couldn't look away as much as I might want to do so. It
             is the equivalent of witnessing a traffic accident in slow motion.

                     What made it palatable was the work of Todd Field, an
             underrated indie actor-director. It is often said that actors relish
             playing the villain and Field proves no exception. His Jimmy is both
             slick huckster and unrelenting manipulator. He is certainly not the
             kind of person you would want to meet, but you cannot take your
             eyes off him in this context. Jason London tries to meet his
             intensity but he lacks the technique — he is adequate when he
             should be impressive. Zal is virtually wasted while Cranshaw
             delivers a fully-realized portrait of an old man whose life has been        
             spent as a slave to drugs. Ziehl shows promise as a filmmaker
             and undoubtedly will go on to better things. As it is
             gives hints as to his capabilities and that isn't such a bad thing.

                                             Rating:          C+                                       
                                             MPAA Rating:  R
© 2008 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.