20th Century Fox
109 Minutes Dirrected By Allen Hughes with
Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, and Catherine Zeta-Jones
Politics is a dirty game, there’s no question about it. If there’s one facet of life where the term, “Nice guys finish last,” is always 100% applicable, it would be in politics. Meshing together Chinatown with the Al Pacino thriller City Hall, Broken City is a stab at a modern day corruption tale that deteriorates under poor attempts to actually contain any mystery. An open book all the way through, Broken City is too simple a story and produces more yawns than awe.
Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is an ex-cop turned private eye. Acquitted of the murder of a rapist who wasn’t convicted on a technicality, Taggart was forced off the police force due to evidence that arose minutes before he was found not guilty of the murder. Though he’s now on his own, he’s highly regarded as a hero in the eyes of many, including New York City Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe). In the five years since Taggart’s incident, the Mayor has done a lot to turn the city around, for the better, but as his re-election nears, the Mayor is embroiled in a controversial real estate deal to the tune of $4 billion that will see the residents of the famous Bolton Village (not an actual NYC development name) out on the streets. Fervor over the Mayor’s inactivity in saving these people’s homes is not really what worries Hostetler though. The Mayor believes his wife is having an affair and the last thing he wants to see before the election is THAT news hitting the wire. Calling in his old buddy Taggart, The Mayor offers a large sum of money to the broke Taggart to find the man who is sleeping with the first lady of NYC. What Taggart uncovers though, is a larger scandal that affects more than just three high powered players stuck in a cuckold situation.
A visiting extra-terrestrial who has no idea about human life, the English language and can only see objects in specific geometric shapes would know that the Bolton Village deal is the real crux of the problems in Broken City. No one in the audience is fooled by the adultery angle and once again we’re treated to a protagonist painted as a highly competent detective who always gets his man, but for some reason can’t see past the thinly veiled plans of a sleazeball politician (even if he IS played by Russell Crowe). Hell, our crack detective can’t even figure out that his own girlfriend doesn’t love him anymore. Nothing can end well when the man we’re following as the story unfolds is five steps behind the viewer in figuring out what’s going down. The attempted twists are broken, flimsy and underwhelming (not so “twisty”). Each reveal is like opening a birthday card from your grandmother to find a note saying, “My love is the greatest present of all,” in place of that $50 check you were sure was in there.
An even more egregious aspect of Broken City is the fact that characters who are on Taggart’s side, who want to help him reach his ultimate goal, refuse to let him in on the whole picture. When Taggart comes to unleash the wealth of knowledge he’s learned about the events to an ally, he’s met with, “Yeah I know all that, but just wait till you find out what really is going on.” Well why don’t you just tell him what’s going on? It’s just a way to try and stretch out the “mystery” everyone’s already figured out. As a viewer, you hope that there’s an overly creative twist that’s super impressive; but you’ll have to keep on wishing.
The film is directed by Allen Hughes (working separately from his brother Albert for the first time), who I’m actually a fan of. The Hughes brothers have made some run of the mill films in the last few years, but they are really talented story tellers and film makers who gave the world films like Menace II Society and the massively under appreciated, From Hell. Allen is able to present a solid atmosphere for his film and is an example of another director able to coax a solid performance from Mark Wahlberg. However, his inability to map out the flawed script comes as quite a shock. Aside from the non-existent suspense, there are scenes dedicated to offering nothing beyond idle chatter. Taggart’s relationship with his girlfriend seems unnecessary and only exists to tie him back to Bolton Village. More time was spent on shots of every, single, NYC bridge (to sell the locations) than exploring what really matters.
As I have in the past, I’m not going to harp on inconsistencies between real life and a work of fiction. Taking the liberty of making New York’s Mayor as disgusting as Nicholas Hostelter is a major point for the film, so I won’t sit here and say that even the most wormy, despicable NY politicians weren’t as evil and slimy as Russell Crowe’s character in Broken City. Laying on more ham than a William Shatner one man show about the life of William Shatner, Russell Crowe plays one of the most ridiculously larger than life scum bags I’ve seen in a long time. So while I won’t damn the movie for being unrealistic, I couldn’t help but eventually start imagining Michael Bloomberg delivering some of Crowe’s most laughable lines. My nightmares after the movie were fueled by images of Bloomberg trying to trash talk the police commissioner using colorful slang terms and sometimes trying them in his broken Spanish. Yeah, politicians play dirty games and I’m sure there are a few murders that were contracted simply to cover something up. My one complaint about realism is; in real life we see these controversies play out every day. The only time we see a death at the end of it all, is due to suicide. Things simply do not play out like this.
The fact is, Broken City plays the thriller game. Digging for a larger meaning doesn’t work well on this film’s terms. There are some plays on the idea of what signifies the good guy or the bad guy, but it’s all enveloped in the crime story and never fleshed out. By the standards of most Americans, it’s the entire nation that’s broken, not just one city. Once again by narrowing the focus of the story to its entertainment aspects, the larger picture is never realized. Broken City really is a low rent modern version of Chinatown, minus the incest. It’s not a bad film, but if you ask me if you should go out of your way to see Broken City, I say forget about it, it’s Bolton Village.