For his debut feature, director Scott Ziehl tackles similar territory to that of Scorsese's Bringing Out The Dead (although Broken Vessels beat it to the screen by almost a year in the States). He approaches his subject matter with a low-budget feel that suppresses the need for special effects or elaborate set pieces and allows the actors to lead the narrative in what is a simple, yet also deeply engrossing, storyline.
Ziehl presents life as a rescue worker as unglamorous, dirty and dangerous, with the fringe benefits of copious drug and alcohol abuse presented not as an escape route but merely a continuation of their abhorrent daily existence. He hardly treads new ground by dealing with the subject of spiralling addiction, yet tackles it with such a non-glitzy, lo-fi approach that he creates a sympathy for his leading characters which is at odds with their seditious behaviour.
Jason London (Dazed And Confused) fits comfortably into his role as Tom, the fish out of water. He provides an air of desperation, creating the illusion that his predicament is a diversion rather than a new way of life. It's a quietly effective performance, serving as the perfect foil for Todd Fields' volatile Jimmy. Although Fields' portrayal of the mentally unhinged paramedic veers dangerously close to cartoonish, his gentle powers of persuasion, coupled with a penchant for violent outbursts and narcotics, see Jimmy become the focus without him losing any credibility.
Ziehls' script may, admittedly, suffer from a lack of sophistication, but he counters this with some ultra-dark humour, and the human ring of detritus which surrounds Tom and Jimmy provides admirable support. But it's the lead actors, together with some great stylish direction, which makes Broken Vessels so unexpectedly powerful.
Broken Vessels won't break any box office records, but what it will do is remind people that good acting is still the key to making a good movie. Director Ziehl has created a low-key hit which deserves your undivided attention.