Broken Vessels

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Broken Vessels
Directed byScott Ziehl
Produced byScott Ziehl
Roxana Zal
Written byScott Ziehl
David Baer
John McMahon
StarringTodd Field
Jason London
Roxana Zal
Susan Traylor
James Hong
Music byMartin Blasick
Todd Field
Brent David Fraser
Bill Laswell
CinematographyAntonio Calvache
Edited byChris Figler
David Moritz
Distributed byUnapix Entertainment Productions
Release date
  • July 2, 1999 (1999-07-02)
Running time
90 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$13,493

Broken Vessels is a 1999 medical drama film directed by Scott Ziehl and written by Ziehl along with David Baer and John McMahon. The film debuted at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival and marked Ziehl's directorial debut. It stars Todd Field, Jason London, Roxana Zal, Susan Traylor, and James Hong. The film follows a rookie paramedic and his hardened drug-addicted partner as they take calls and cruise L.A. in their ambulance.[1] Although it shares the same name as the book, it has nothing to do with the Andre Dubus essay collection of the same name.


The film tells the story of Tom, a young man from Pennsylvania who travels to Los Angeles to start working for an ambulance company. There, he is paired with an utterly self-assured veteran named Jimmy who has apparently gone through many partners in his time. In the beginning, Tom is overwhelmed by Jimmy's competence to deal with the high-pressure job, but slowly but surely he discovers that Jimmy is not the cool and collected man he thought he was. While Jimmy seems to have everything under control on the surface, he gets through the traumatic effects of the job by heavy use of drugs and avoiding commitments. Before long Tom finds himself pulled into the same world and has to come to a decision about what direction he wants to take in his life.


Box office[edit]

Made on a non-union shoestring budget of $600,000, it was nominated for several awards when it was shown at film festivals in 1998.[2] Though it failed to find a legitimate theatrical distributor, eventually, the film was self-released in just two theaters over the holiday weekend of July 4, 1999 and brought in $3,722.[3]

Critical reception[edit]

The film received no small amount of notice from major critics including Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times who gave it three stars out of four, saying "What makes the movie special is the way both lead actors find the right quiet notes for their performances."[4]

Leonard Klady of Variety wrote

"A vivid, embracing tale of life on the edge, "Broken Vessels" is an assured first feature with potent commercial appeal. Focused on a pair of paramedics behind the wheel of an ambulance, the film skillfully careens through the incidental and dark humor of their lives and plows forward into the bleak personal terrain that comes with the job. One of the few genuine artistic hits of the L.A. Indie Fest (the film received the fest's best picture prize), "Vessels" has sufficient high- octane quality to overcome the noisy, overcrowded specialized scene and carve out a respectable theatrical niche. At the center of "Broken Vessels" are two exceptionally compelling performances by Field and London. Despite the outward flashiness of Jimmy, Field does nothing to pump up his role; it's wonderfully nuanced work in which the most modest changes in shading wind up resonating as his dance on the edge of sanity and the law becomes complex and precarious. London works his boyish persona for all its worth and his slide from cute to sinister occurs with brilliant ease."[5]

Kevin Thomas of the Los Angeles Times wrote

" Movies don't get much more corrosive or gripping than Scott Ziehl's high-energy first feature, "Broken Vessels." The actors, including the ever-reliable William Smith in a cameo, are all on the money in their portrayals in exceptionally well-drawn roles, crackling with pungent dialogue. In major, demanding roles London and Field are especially impressive. "Broken Vessels" could take Ziehl far. It has that kind of kinetic energy that fuses style and theme, as Tom and Jimmy careen through L.A. streets both in answer to emergency calls and in pursuit of a fix."[6]

Awards and nominations[edit]

At the British Independent Film Awards, the film was nominated for Best Foreign Independent Film - English Language, at the Gijón International Film Festival director Scott Ziehl was nominated for the Grand Prix Asturias award in the category of Best Feature. Ziehl and co-producer Roxana Zal won the Audience Award in the category of Best Feature Film at the Los Angeles Independent Film Festival in 1998.[7]


  1. ^ Holden, Stephen. "Movies: About Broken Vessels". The New York Times. Retrieved April 27, 2010.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2008-11-20. Retrieved 2008-03-12.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  3. ^ Broken Vessels (1998) - Box office / business[better source needed]
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (1999-07-02). "Broken Vessels review". Chicago Sun-Times. Archived from the original on 2009-08-01. Retrieved 2009-08-01.
  5. ^ Klady, Leonard (20 April 1998). "Broken Vessels review". Variety.
  6. ^ Thomas, Kevin (20 April 1998). "Broken Vessels review". Los Angeles Times.
  7. ^ Broken Vessels (1998) - Awards

External links[edit]