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Alice and Darlene, best friends, decide to take a trip to Thailand to celebrate high-school graduation. While there, they are befriended by charming Australian rogue Nick Parks. Nick convinces them to take a weekend side trip to Hong Kong, but at the airport, they are busted for smuggling drugs. They are convicted in a show trial and sentenced to 33 years; in desperation, they contact Yankee Hank, an American lawyer based in Thailand who has been reported to be helpful if you've got the cash. Written by
Jon Reeves <firstname.lastname@example.org>
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A gripping dramatic thriller that works thanks to the terrific performances.
*** out of ****
Brokedown Palace has an intriguing premise: two best friends (Kate Beckinsale and Claire Danes) fresh from high school are on their summer vacation in Thailand, but are arrested for possession of narcotics, found guilty and sentenced to 33 years in a women's prison. Admittedly, I'm aware of several films with similar stories (Midnight Express, Return to Paradise, and Red Corner), and I must also admit I've only see one of those three aforementioned films, which might be why much of it felt fresh and engrossing to me. Either that, or it's just a story that's told damn well.
Bill Pullman also stars in the picture as an American lawyer named Hank Greene, who feels for the girls' plight and fights to prove their innocence. But the real focus is on Beckinsale and Danes, whose wonderful performances are the anchor to the film's drama and moral quandaries. Beckinsale's Darlene is the more reserved and quieter of the two, the kind of person who sort of follows her friend without question, and certainly not the type to take unwarranted risks (unless her friend persuades her to). She's almost a direct opposite of Danes' Alice, whose outgoing and semi-rebellious behavior is the indirect link to their current troubles.
I hesitate to give much more of the movie away, suffice to say that their friendship is what's ultimately put to the test, and watching the twists and turns (almost all of which are perfectly believable) in the story is utterly captivating. The film slinks to melodrama in its climactic moments, but still rings true thanks to the tour-de-force turns from Beckinsale and Danes.
It's an open-ended question as to whether or not either of the girls committed the crime of smuggling narcotics, and such ambiguity might upset some, but I liked not knowing for certain, and it's not as if it makes the final scenes any less believable. In fact, the ambiguity only makes it all the more compelling. Yes, the plot has its share of head-scratching moments (what purpose does that Thai girl who despises Darlene and Alice really serve?) and lacks subtlety on occasion, but it's a well-crafted film that boasts great performances, and has the guts not to cop out in the end.
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