Perhaps it's the unusual depth of performance and refreshingly unconventional appearance, but isn't it strange how many interesting projects there are for teenage girl Claire Danes? With Oliver Stones's U-Turn, Francis Ford Coppola's The Rainmaker, Les Miserables and the small indie Polish Wedding already in the can, Danes is embarking on Brokedown Palace (name change ASAP, please), a My So-Called Life-meets-Midnight Express story to be directed by the first-rate, not-yet-a-star Carl Franklin, whose previous films include One False Move and Devil in a Blue Dress. The first part of this nongeneric tale is a flashback set off as Helen, a fortyish human rights organization worker in Thailand (uncast as of this writing, but picture Emma Thompson or, if the rumor pans out Mia Farrow), listens to Alice (Danes) tell the story of how she and her friend Darlene go traipsing through Asia and into disaster. The two young women meet up with a charming, similarly reckless guy, Nick, and both are smitten. He eventually goes for Alice's more naive companion, but that becomes a moot point when the two girls get busted at the airport for heroin found in their bags. Alice's tape is designed to get Helen on the job of springing the girls from the nasty prison-filth, bugs in the food, but thankfully no rape-where they're languishing. Did Nick set them up? Use them as unwitting couriers? Helen investigates, the movie unfolds its secrets, and in the course of all this, there's a good amount of the dark stuff Danes has gravitated toward lately (for what it's worth, she gets beat up in this one, as she does in U-Turn and The Rainmaker). Danes also lets fly with some gritty talk. Here's what Alice says when she and Darlene are detained after the heroin has been discovered: "Oh, shit. Your fucking boyfriend Nick. Oh fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck. (Pause) Fuck." It's all a long way from the last dying breath of Little Women's Beth.
© Movieline 1997