Rating: 2 stars out of 5
‘Broken City’ is a pretty straightforward movie, maybe a little too straightforward. It clearly has its roots in the film noirs of lore. The ingredients are all there: murder, femme fatales, politics, power and greed. However, the sum of the parts doesn't really add up. The gears, the cranks and the screws are all present but the machinery simply fails to work.
The movie follows NYPD detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg). He is arrested for the murder of one Mikey Tavarez (Luis Tolentino), who raped and murdered the 16 year old sister of Taggart's girlfriend, Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez). Mayor Nicholas Hosteler (Russell Crowe) grants a favour, eliminating the evidence and allowing Taggart to walk free with a ruling of self-defence. Seven years later, Taggart is a private detective who's now been hired by the Mayor to keep tabs on his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). However, everything isn't quite what it seems.
The script, written by Brian Tucker was on 2008's “black list”, Hollywood's list of the best unproduced screenplays. The movie has been in development in one way or another since 2008. This also marks director Allen Hughes' first solo feature film directing effort, having collaborated with brother Albert for all his previous movies.
Most film noirs tackle something inherently wrong with society, whether it is lust, greed or the corruption of power. These issues are all present in this movie and the movie does hint at a little bit of the abuse of political power and how the government system can fail people.
However, the movie fails to explore any of them in depth, preferring to focus on the macho posturing of Taggart's tale of redemption and the many little scandals that litter the plot. This makes the movie a little too bland, with many of the “twists” that are in the movie easily seen from a mile away and also makes those standard noir type elements (power, corruption, femme fatale character) appear to be just elements shoehorned in to make this a noir type story. Even a subplot about Taggart's girlfriend leads nowhere in the film. There's simply nothing about the plot that rewards the viewer, unless you're a die-hard film noir fan who's not at all demanding about seeing the tropes and archetypes of the genre being represented in a flattering fashion.
Director Allen Hughes provides a steady if unspectacular hand steering the ship. The movie especially shines in the cinematography department, infusing some vintage voyeurism into this tale of power and overall, managing to paint New York City in a dark, gloomy light befitting of the many crime story style overtones the movie contains.
The talented cast does manage to give a slight lift to the material although they aren't exactly being challenged. Wahlberg is particularly comfortable in a typically hard ass role that we're used to seeing him play by now. He's easily the best thing about the movie; a flawed character carrying the heavy burden of guilt while trying to navigate the many schemes that populate New York City. . However, he's too much of a reactionary character, reacting to many “twists and turns” that the complicated plot throws his way. That doesn't leave much room for any emotional investment on the part of the viewer, leading to a rather unfulfilling feeling upon the conclusion of his story.
Crowe and Zeta-Jones do seem rather bored by their roles though they don't deliver particularly awful performances. Crowe seems to have quite a bit of fun channelling his inner snake into his character but it's ultimately not very memorable. Forgettable would be the kinder choice of word.
All in all, ‘Broken City’ is a pretty standard procedural thriller – it depends too much on coincidence and near impossible aligning of situations in the plot and doesn't have any new things to say or offer. At times, it's still goofy guilty pleasure type entertainment at its best, the type you'd hate to tell someone else that you enjoyed.
With such a talented cast, one cannot help but feel that they didn't have a lot to work with and the blame falls onto the script; the many ideas that are present in the script but aren't fleshed out enough prove to the be movie's downfall, leading to a forgettable affair with this corrupted version of New York City.