Broken City


Reviewed by: Owen Van Spall

Broken City
"The cardboard characters' motivations and agendas are clearly signposted, often in unintentionally hilarious ways."

Sadly, Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg will be adding Broken City to their own personal lists of films they couldn't save with their A list status-though both have done fine work in many other far superior films with similar subject matter. Broken City thus arrives on British screens looking like it has earned director Allen Hughes (From Hell, Dead Presidents) the dubious honour of having helmed 2013s first big A-list/B movie flop.

The film opens seven years in the past, as we see street-tough detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) facing a court trial for an ambiguous shooting he was involved in as part of his duties as a narcotics officer in New York City. The verdict goes Billy's way, but it is soon made clear that the bruiser Republican mayor Nicholas Hostetler had a hand in the result, as did the inscrutable Commissioner Chief Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright). Billy stays out of jail, but he loses his job on the force, and the mayor goes off knowing Billy is in his pocket.

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Jump forward seven years to the present, and the mayor is running for his third term in a tight election. Billy, now working as a private detective, finally gets the phone call from the mayor calling in that debt. The Mayor suspects his wife, Cathleen Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair and Billy is tasked with finding out who the lover is. Billy takes the seemingly simple job, needing the money. Soon, however, he finds out that something else - something bigger and more dangerous - is going on. Cathleen's lover is none other than Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), campaign manager for the leftwing city councilman who polls suggest is close to unseating Hostetler in the mayoral race. But what is is that Andrews has on the mayor, and why is the mayor's wife working against him? Soon, murders are taking place, agendas are revealed, and Billy is forced to face his past choices and the hold the mayor has over him because of them.

Hollywood is full of noirish thrillers that satisfy by hanging any number of themes, concepts, stylistic tricks and intriguing characters on slim plots. Russell Crowe and Mark Walberg have even starred in such films. Broken City is not one of them. It is a strange beast, it has the chassis of a slick contemporary political thriller and its title suggests we will be sailing in some complex political, societal and moral waters, but many of the story elements are straight out of the cliché box: the ex cop turned PI who has a cute blond PA and works out of a ratty office with shades and a wood frame door.

The script by Brian Tucker seems unable to trust the audience. The political shenanigans displayed here in the 'broken' Big Apple are paint by numbers at best, light on complexity or depth and requiring little effort from the viewer (and seemingly little effort from the characters either, given how straightforward the conspiracy is for Wahlberg and co to unravel). The cardboard characters' motivations and agendas are clearly signposted, often in unintentionally hilarious ways. The heroic Democrat contender for the mayoralty is actually called Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), and has the usual Kennedy-lite patter about taking on evil corporations and shady mayors. Crowe must be the villain as he has a bad haircut and swaggers with a thuggish gait, smiling like a wolf about to dine on fine pheasant. Can anyone doubt the Mayor's nature when he recants to Billy his memories about watching “bitches in heat” crawling over broken glass to reach a male dog, all whilst his own crotch is nuzzled by his dog in his plush mayoral armchair? In fact the film shows its cards so openly you might begin to wonder if this isn't some huge sleight of hand and the plot will suddenly pull a major reversal on you, like the mayor being revealed to be an innocent party in all this.

Star Wahlberg isn't required to do anything stretching. Playing either cops or street smart guys with dirt under their nails and a nice line in bull in a china shop strategies is second nature to him. The script at least gives his plodding gumshoe character some shades. Billy might be the 'hero' and point of identification for the audience, but he is also a possible murderer and something of a bigot, plus an all around below average 'one drink from falling off the wagon' boyfriend to his actress partner Natalie.

Bizarrely, about half way through the running time the already predictable narrative detours into a totally pointless subplot which involves Billy struggling to deal with his girlfriend's liberal arts type friends who co-star in her new indie film, which is about to launch. One scene sees Billy, viewing the film in the audience for its launch night, squirming in his seat as Natalie launches into a graphic sex scene with her hunky metrosexual co-star - who Wahlberg is convinced is really screwing her. Why this scene pops up in a film supposedly focused on serious issues about political corruption is a mystery, but it is hugely funny to watch for the expressions on Wahlberg's face alone. This raises the possibility that, Broken City could have had far more merit if it had been totally reengineered as a Wahlberg campy comedy vehicle. Certainly Broken City should be watched that way, as apart from a few unintentional laughs there is little else save some nice moody noir-inflected colour pallette and camerawork to recommend here.

Reviewed on: 19 Jan 2013
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Broken City packshot
A private detective gets caught up in a conspiracy involving elected officials and murder.
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Director: Allen Hughes

Writer: Brian Tucker

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez

Year: 2013

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 18 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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