I’m sure I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating. One of the pleasures of this job is getting the chance to take a look at some of the first work a filmmaker does, especially when it’s done well. This week it was my pleasure to watch the first feature from writer/director Justin Chambers, a drama called “Broken Roads,” which is opening in New York City on February 19.
Aldo Russo (Bristow) is a happy kid of 17. But when he and his mother are involved in an auto accident that takes her life he finds his world turned upside down. As he is not yet 18 he is sent away to the country to live with his maternal grandmother, Mrs. Wallace (Kirkland). As his mother left home at a young age and never returned Aldo has never met Mrs. Wallace. At first things are strained. Though they are technically family there is nothing but the memory of a dead woman to bond these two together. Aldo has to wonder how long the next nine months are going to seem.
An intimate drama, with only a few main characters, “Broken Roads” could easily have gone down the maudlin road that bigger budgeted and similar stories (the Jane Fonda/Lindsay Lohan stinker “Georgia Rules” comes to mind) have followed. But with a smart screenplay by director Chambers and a talented cast, led by former Oscar nominee Kirkland, the story maintains its credibility throughout.
As Aldo, Bristow (who bears a strong resemblance to a younger Joaquin Phoenix) does a fine job dealing with the various emotions he’s called on to express. Anger. Fear. Loss. And, eventually, love. It’s a strong performance from an up and coming actor. Kirkland, who has somehow always managed to remain under the radar, is equally impressive as she deals with the same emotions Aldo is experiencing. Supporting work by Bush, as a young girl Aldo meet, along with Rolanda Watts as a kindly neighbor and Ross Marquand as someone from Aldo’s past, helps carry the film along. And special mention needs to go to cinematographer Michael Moghaddam for his camera capturing the beauty of the countryside as well as composer Jimmy Gelhaar, whose score is an excellent accompaniment to the on screen story.