The indie Broke Sky is a drama, but it has enough whimsical and oddball elements to be maybe 15% comedy/85% drama.
The movie takes place in small town Texas. The protagonists are middle-aged Earl and young newlywed Bucky. They are government workers; their occupation is removal of roadkill.
OK, I had no idea that’s even a job. If once in a while someone hits a deer or some large animal, and its carcass is left blocking the road, that’s a safety issue and I understand how someone would have to come out to remove it, the same as if a large tree branch or anything else had landed in the road. But these guys ride around in a truck all day picking up dozens of dead animals as their full time job. I had no idea there would be that many dead animals in the road, or that there would be any particular need to remove any but the largest. I would have thought scavengers would make short work of squirrels and rabbits and such.
Their animal removal job is a big part of the atmosphere of the movie. We aren’t just told that that is their occupation; we’re shown it over and over. The bulk of the scenes are of them out on the road in their truck, with repeated gruesome—and in a black comedy way perhaps humorous—shots of scraping mangled animal carcasses off the road, bagging them, talking about them, razzing each other about them, etc.
One day they pick up a girl hitchhiking. Earl flirts with her heavily but gets nowhere.
Shortly after that, the county gets a call from an old fellow named Rufus, saying that there’s a dead animal smell coming from his well. Earl and Bucky are sent to fish out whatever is in there, and are shocked when instead of an animal they haul up the dead body of the hitchhiker.
Bucky’s first instinct is to report it. Earl frantically talks him out of it, confessing that he and the girl did indeed get together that night, that surely his DNA will be found on her, and that especially with his having a criminal record he’ll end up with a murder beef. He swears up and down, though, that he is innocent, that he is as surprised as Bucky at finding her body.
Very much against his better judgment, Bucky goes along with Earl’s insistence that they keep what they discovered secret and dispose of the body (in the pit where they dispose of all the animal carcasses).
That doesn’t end matters, at least not psychologically. Bucky is wracked with guilt, even more concerned that they have done something sinful than about getting caught. He wants to be loyal to Earl and protect him, but he’s distraught over what that has required of him.
Earl monitors Bucky closely for signs of weakness, reminding him that they did what they had to do, and now it’s over and they need to move on like it never happened. Bucky can’t get over his guilt however.
But while Earl initially has a stronger, colder exterior, eventually there are signs that the situation is getting to him as well. In his own way his discomfort ends up possibly as great as Bucky’s.
Meanwhile there’s evidently something going on with this Rufus guy. Earl has some kind of mysterious relationship with him that Bucky—and I gather maybe no one—knows about. He serves as a part time caretaker to the ailing, crotchety Rufus, visiting him, bringing him bags of groceries, helping him to get around his shack, etc., which Rufus repays with random verbal abuse. Earl serves Rufus with a glum attitude of someone fulfilling an obligation.
Obviously many, many questions arise from this situation. Is Earl the murderer? If so, why would he go with Bucky to investigate what was stuck in the well if he knew what they would find? At the opposite end, is he lying about having had any contact with the girl after they picked her up hitchhiking? (There’s something not very plausible about his claim that they “got together” that night. She showed zero interest in him when they gave her a ride, and they never exchanged phone numbers or anything—at least not that was shown—so it’s unclear how they even would have met up later.) But if he’s lying about that, why? Is it all he could think of to get Bucky to agree to cover up the murder? But why would he want to cover up the murder? Is he covering for someone else? Rufus?
Is Bucky upset solely about their covering up a murder and disrespectfully disposing of the body, or does he have any suspicion that Earl is the murderer? Will Bucky hold his water, or break down and confess what they did? Does Earl trust he’ll hold his water? If not, is there a chance he’ll move on him to keep him quiet?
Who is Rufus and what is his role in all this? If he is the murderer, does Earl know this or merely suspect it? Is he Earl’s father or some other relative, someone Earl owes a favor to, someone who is blackmailing Earl, or what?
Or might there be an even bigger surprise, like Earl and/or Bucky in fact knew the hitchhiker before they picked her up, or Bucky himself had something to do with the murder?
The deeper it gets into the film the more intense the story becomes. In the end, thankfully it does not turn out to be one of those tease movies where much of it is left a mystery or where whatever explanations are revealed are too convoluted to make any sense of. Ultimately it’s more or less resolved what happened and why people did what they did, though some of it you have to take educated guesses at.
Satisfyingly resolved? Well, it’s OK. Some of it I found puzzling or not very plausible, but I can’t say much about why without spoiling it.
Broke Sky feels like a pretty low budget movie. The acting and dialogue aren’t always first rate, though actually I got used to that and gradually warmed to these characters and found them more believable as the movie went on. The humor and dramatic intensity sometimes don’t fit together as well as one might hope. (So many movies—especially indies—try to pull this off, trying to be the next Fargo, but fewer than 1% even come close to that masterpiece.)
But really it’s not bad. The story, the environment, the characters, certainly their occupation, are odd enough to be consistently interesting. I liked Broke Sky enough to give it a modest thumbs up.