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Broke trailer has echoes of troubled rugby league star Mitchell Pearce's downfall

For filmmaker Heath Davis, rugby league star Mitchell Pearce's dramas – drunkenly trying to kiss a woman and simulating sex with a dog on Australia Day – were all too familiar.

"It just felt like 'here we go again'," the writer-director says. "Footy season seems to traditionally start with some negative publicity – a football player getting into strife and it's generally related to alcohol or gambling."

There are echoes of Pearce's boozy antics, which have seen him head to rehab overseas, in the trailer for Davis's film Broke which has just been released.

"A lot of people in Australia drink to excess, they gamble to excess, and people glorify that," he says. "They're remorseful afterwards but the damage is done."

Described as a drama with humour, Broke centres on a former rugby league star, Ben Kelly (played by Steve Le Marquand), whose drinking and gambling addiction leads him into disgrace.


At the lowest point in his life – kicked out of the game, in trouble with the law and alienated from former team-mates – "BK" gets a chance at redemption after meeting a local battler and fan, Cec (Max Cullen), and his daughter, single-mother Terri (Claire van der Boom).

"He's got a big problem with alcohol," says Davis. "The more he drinks, the more he seems to gamble.

"And pokies are his predominant vice but horses too."

While Davis initially had the idea for the film 10 years ago, Pearce's drunken antics follow disgrace for a series of other rugby league stars in recent years, including Joel Monaghan, Todd Carney and the late Ryan Tandy.

There's also a suggestion in Broke that match fixing was involved in ending BK's celebrated career – another topical issue given the scandals affecting cricket, football, tennis and other sports.

"All these big sports have endorsements and sponsors and advertisers that are gambling agencies so it's a temptation that's very clear," Davis says.

Growing up in Penrith, he was inspired to write the script for Broke after seeing a famous player in the grip of a gambling addiction – a lonely figure playing the pokies by himself at midnight.

"I grew up around problem gamblers that played rugby league," he says. "I played rugby league until the age of 18, 19 at a pretty good level with some famous players who went on to have pretty good careers for Australia and NSW.

"I've seen them on a Sunday as heroes on the field and I've seen them on a Tuesday night at the local pub.

"It was that juxtaposition between the highs and lows. I saw it impacting so many people, whether they were fans, local players, parents with kids that played or whether they played.

"It's just kind of what you do – you have some bets, you drink some beer and you watch football."

Davis says early festival screenings suggest Broke, which was made with private finance and backing from crowdfunding and the National Rugby League, will work for non-sports fans as a human story of redemption.

It is starting a cinema roll-out that will take it around the country, starting with a travelling roadshow in Queensland.

After more festival screenings – internationally in New Jersey, Los Angeles, Cardiff and Manchester – Broke will reach NSW cinemas in late March and April.