Review: Broken City
PLOT: When disgraced ex-cop turned private investigator Billy Taggart is hired by the mayor to find out who his wife is sleeping with, he finds himself in some dangerous territory. With a double-cross here and a twist there, he realizes there is more to this story than the politician lead him to believe.
BROKEN CITY should have had all the right elements to make a satisfying modern day film noir. The cast - including Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal and Kyle Chandler - is all top-notch and director Allen Hughes (one half of the The Hughes Brothers) has created some terrific films in the past. Yet this crime drama is a ponderous and convoluted affair that fails to generate the heat and mystery that might have propelled this mediocre flick into a seriously substantial drama.
The story begins with a dutiful police officer named Billy Taggart, who is on trial for the murder of a suspected rapist freed due to technicalities. The trial becomes one of race, political advancement and the need to put the blame on somebody whether deserving or not. However, the local mayor - the ruthless and power hungry Mayor Hostetler - looks at this police officer as a hero, one who realizes that you must sometimes go beyond the law. BROKEN CITY builds on the relationship between these two men and how the two become pawns in each other’s lives. Things get especially complicated for the two when Hostetler asks Taggart – who quit the force to become a private investigator – to find out who his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with.
The problems begin with Mark Wahlberg’s character. It’s not that the actor doesn’t work in the role, not at all. He does well with what he is given performance wise. The problem is the character himself. This private dick is hardly a sympathetic hero as he often goes from nice guy to a brutish moronic jealous boyfriend to his actress girlfriend Natalie (the stunningly gorgeous Natalie Martinez -- MovieHotties recently interviewed her HERE). It is very difficult to really care about this shady yet bland anti-hero – although you might get brutish as well if your girlfriend was hanging around with the pretentiously obnoxious “indie film cast” that she is involved with. Either way, this ex-cop turned private detective is just a mass of clichés without any real brawn or intensity.
As the story tediously unfolds, the usual mix of backstabbing and mistrust occurs throughout. Not a single character is who you are supposed to think they are, yet the story unfolds awkwardly without any real surprise or genuine suspense. As intricate as this tries to be, there are very few surprises other than some bizarre character choices that happen throughout. It also seems that the players here put some blind faith in each other, creating a number of broken relationships that are there just to tie this mess together. Ironically enough, the script by Brian Tucker was placed on the well-regarded “Black List” back in 2008. It would be interesting to look back and see what, if anything had changed.
As much of a problem I had with the storytelling aspect of BROKEN CITY, it certainly is a nice looking film. Hughes has a way of creating some incredibly interesting shots which is evident from the very first scene. Even with my issues this is not to say that this is a terrible film, it does however fail to create any sort of real tension. All the actors – even Wahlberg – do very credible work, I especially found Barry Pepper to be terrific as a Kennedyesque politician running against Hostetler in a filthy, dirty mayoral campaign. The actor disappears into his work and continues to impress as one of the most interesting young character actors working today. In the end however, this is only a slight film that might be worth a rental. Sadly, this is not near to what could have been a great modern day mystery noir.
BROKEN CITY opens today at a theatre near you.