Synopsis: In a broken city rife with injustice, ex-cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) seeks redemption – and revenge – after being double-crossed and then framed by its most powerful figure, the mayor (Russell Crowe). Billy’s relentless pursuit of justice, matched only by his streetwise toughness, makes him an unstoppable force – and the mayor’s worst nightmare.
Release Date: January 18, 2013 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Thriller
Broken City is a political thriller that has all the makings of a successful film. It has star power, intrigue, and a slow burn mentality, but somewhere along the way it loses faith in its audience’s ability to unravel a good mystery. At the center of Broken City‘s story is Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), a former NYPD cop who spends his time, like all good former cops, as a Private Detective. Taggart is barely scraping by, so when the Mayor of New York, Nick Hostetler (a sandy blonde Russell Crowe), hires him to dig up some dirt on his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he jumps at the opportunity. There’s history between Taggart and Hostetler – both are men who presumably want to do right by the city of New York and will do so at any cost – but for the moment the focus is placed on discovering whether or not Cathleen has been unfaithful to Hostetler, who as luck may have it is also up for re-election.
From there things only get more and more complicated, with Wahlberg hearing some variation on the line “you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into” far too many times, and him refusing to give up until the “truth” is finally revealed. It’s apparent very early on that all is not what it seems, almost comically so, but it takes Wahlberg’s character far too long to find that out. Luckily, when he does there are plenty of side characters (played by talented actors like Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, and Kyle Chandler) willing to feed him another piece of the oh-so informative pie. Not the entire pie, mind you, just enough to keep the plot moving forward.
By the time the film finally reaches its disappointing conclusion, however, it’s hard to look back and say that the journey was all that meaningful, or engaging for that matter. At times there are moments of suspense or intrigue, even a few spots of action, but taken as a whole Broken City is mediocre at best, a generic entry in the political thriller genre that asks little of its audience. This is the type of movie where characters literally say their back-story, or roles, out loud, and opens with a flashback that ensures nobody is caught off guard when a late-breaking twist is thrown in. I would like to call attention to the relationship between Mark Wahlberg’s character and his secretary Katy (Alona Tal), as it is perhaps the most meaningful in the whole film. The interaction between the two is playful and comes across as genuine, but Tal is sadly underutilized. In all honesty, I’d have rather watched a film that focused on Wahlberg’s business as a P.I. Some might come away from Broken City feeling like it scratched a certain itch for them, but most will see it as nothing more than fluff.
Brian Tucker’s script, as has already been touched upon, is as safe as they come – it never outreaches its grasp and connects all the requisite dots with the straight edge of a ruler. Plot points don’t reveal themselves, and story beats don’t unravel in any way that could be considered organic, instead most of the important information is fed to the audience as part of some revelatory dialogue. And when Wahlberg is doing some actually, you know, detective work he’s happening upon important documents that are conveniently being thrown away at the exact moment he arrives on scene. Never mind the fact that piles and piles of papers are shown being shredded without prejudice and the important documents Wahlberg finds are pristine – that would have required too much work from the script’s stand point.
What’s even worse than the bigger picture stuff, though, are the little touches that are only there because Wahlberg’s character needed to have “layers.” He refuses alcohol on several occasions, for example, only so that when he does take a drink the audience knows he has truly hit rock bottom. Or how about the fact the film introduces us to Taggart’s girlfriend, an actress hoping to get her big break and escape her and Taggart’s troubled past, who is completely thrown away as a character about halfway through. To put it mildly, Broken City‘s script is B-movie quality storytelling with no aspirations to be clever or unique.
With a cast that does not befit a January release I would be remiss not to touch upon the acting, but unfortunately most of what is worth discussing is how ham-fisted it is. Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg are asked to give their best performances as their requisite, go-to personalities. Wahlberg gets to toss out more than a few epithets, smash a few heads, and wisecrack plenty, and Russell Crowe gets to put on a show as the film’s deceptive villain whose main goal is to have the audience doubting his morality until the very end. Neither is well served by the script, and both don’t do anything to elevate it. They show up as Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe and deliver what the audience expects.
Not much could be said about many of the cast’s smaller roles, especially since most float in and out of the story as necessary. There are actually some really talented actors in the film, but they are, for the most part, wasted in purely expository scenes. Catherine Zeta Jones, for example, is in the film for a grand total of 10-15 minutes and barely has any lines. But one of those is the all important “you don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into.”
Director Allen Hughes (who is usually featured as one part of the Hughes Brothers duo) is known as the actors’ director, and so one would assume he would relish the opportunity to work with a cast that features plenty of Oscar nominees and winners. Hughes gets decent performances out of his actors, as expected, but I have a sneaky suspicion the allure of working with such high-profile talent was greater than his apprehensions about the Broken City script.
However, what was completely unexpected is his inability to compose a film that, on a very basic level, is put together with any sense of space. Incongruous edits and distracting camera movement/placement aren’t something that is all that noticeable, but when a simple scene of dialogue features an overly complicated 360-degree camera spin it’s hard not to assume it is Allen’s brother Albert that must handle the technical side of things. I’m not saying that is true, but the clumsy filmmaking – across the board – made it appear that way.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Allen Hughes
- Screenwriter(s): Brian Tucker
- Cast: Mark Wahlberg (Billy Taggart)Russell Crowe (Mayor Hostetler)Catherine Zeta-Jones (Cathleen Hostetler) Jeffrey Wright (Carl Fairbanks)Barry Pepper (Jack Valliant)Natalie Martinez (Natalie Barrow)Kyle Chandler (Paul Andrews)
- Editor(s): Cindy Mollo
- Cinematographer: Ben Seresin
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Atticus Ross
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA