These women go to Thailand after graduating from high school. Danes is seen as the "bad girl," while Beckingsdale is the "good girl," and that's the key to the rest of the movie. The whole Thailand trip comes about because Danes really wants to go there instead of in Maui, which Beckingsdale assumed the two were going to the first place. Beckingsdale's dad is the protective type of course, and likely wouldn't approve of such a detour, so Danes helps in creating the lie that everything is business as usual -- and so it's off to Thailand.
Even before the girls get into trouble, they are disappointed when their hoped-for pleasure palace is essentially (in their minds) an Asian version of a fleapit motel. On a bold dare, the two women get inside an exclusive hotel so they can sit on the pool side. When the pool boy figures out that the girls are not where they belong, out come the guards, but the two women are rescued (in the nick of time, of course!!) by a cool Australian dude, who proceeds to show them the nightlife and other fun things.
Of course, the two girls fight over his affections. First, Beckingsdale flirts with him, and actually believes that this could be love (at the very least, she takes this far too seriously). But, the next night, Beckingsdale sees Danes and the guy talking in rather friendly terms, and gets a little jealous after Danes tells her that the guy asked her if she wanted to accompany him to Hong Kong (and the other girl can tag along of course).
But as the girls are about to board the plane, they are arrested, and are found with bags of cocaine in their possession. The two are hauled in to separate cells, and let the psychological games begin. The officers want both girls to sign a phony confession - Danes doesn't (being naturally hostile and suspicious, of course), but Beckingsdale does (being naive enough to believe the officer's claim that she's signing her statement of events). This situation creates a problem, as the two are now deeper in trouble because of the phony statement, and it becomes more crucial to find a way to avoid spending the rest of their lives in jail.
The two prisoners get an American lawyer living in Thailand, known as Yankee Hank (played by Bill Pullman), who tries to help them, although, being the cynical and clever lawyer type, Hank does everything in his power to get all the information he can get out of these two girls. He himself wonders whether or not perhaps at least one of the girls is guilty, especially when he discovers that Danes did spend some time alone with the Australian, without Beckingsdale's knowledge. Hank's gut feeling is that Danes may very well have been willing to smuggle drugs. Danes denies it, even when Beckingsdale finds out and says, pretty convincingly, that her so-called best friend has ruined her life.
Of course, only a crazy person would believe that these girls are actually guilty of any crime. This is not gritty enough. It's a teen-oriented melodrama, not a brutal prison drama, and the entirety of the film doesn't involve guilt, but the true power of friendship and sacrifice. The sorts of problems encountered here aren't too distressful. The worst thing that happens involves a cruel trick played at the prison by a woman who tells Danes to go ahead and eat the fruit from the large pile in the corner of the eating quarters. The guards see Danes eat the fruit and force her to kneel so she can be whipped on the arms. Other than that, however, there isn't really a whole lot of brutality -- it's more like irritating inconvenience than everything else. The women seem to be able to hang around and socialize with each other; the only issue is the fact that they can't leave. At the same time, however, the film doesn't really try to show us how the women try to pass the time being locked up - it couldn't have been that difficult for the writers to at least try ripping off something like Billy Wilder's great Stalag 17, which wasn't very brutal as a POW drama, but certainly showed us the human comedy and drama of people confined in a prison. You know, maybe Claire Danes could have done a bit of rueful joking around with the guard, or devised many clever ways of trying to get people out -- if you've seen Stalag 17 you'll understand what I mean.
As well, befitting a typical teen movie, the hit music punctuates everything. This is an MTV version of a prison drama, as it sells us a few hit tunes to go with its xenophobia. Even the most important scenes are overdone with the music, when perhaps some actual direction and focus might have helped.
This is not a film that benefits from sympathetic, evenhanded portraits of the Thai people - sure, the lawyer has a Thai wife, but that was probably just written in when it became apparent that the movie portrayed everyone as crooked or deceitful in some fashion (even the pool boy and the luggage handlers look ominous). I really don't know much about any of these Asian countries and their legal system, but no doubt such situations do happen - but surely, not everybody is in somebody else's pocket?!? Isn't that typical -- America is number one, and everybody else is either our partner or an enemy.
The good stuff is between the two prisoners, two fairly mismatched friends whose differences eventually come down hard between them. While there may be doubt in some people's minds about the guilt or innocence of Danes' character, the accusation of guilt clearly stretches further, because, even if Danes didn't smuggle drugs, she allowed her impulsive nature to get them both into trouble. And Beckingsdale, being the naive (and apparently self-important) good girl, gets into a tirade about exactly how her best friend has ruined her, apparently forgetting that Danes isn't exactly any better off either.
Overall, while Brokedown Palace isn't really a distinguished film, it does offer an introduction, at least, to a vastly different justice system, as well as a melodramatic tale of teenagers wrongly accused. Danes and Beckingsdale try their best, and in doing so allows some power in a somewhat one-sided and simple story.
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