Broken City is a political thriller full of lies, adultery, and many very surprising plot twists. Despite the stellar cast, the writing and acting doesn’t live up to its full potential, but is still slightly better than anticipated.
At the start, Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), a N.Y.P.D. cop, is acquitted of murdering a 16-year-old boy who was charged with rape. However, despite media protests, Taggart wins the court case pleading self-defense, as the boy had a gun. Immediately after the trial, New York Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) quietly dismiss Taggart. Seven years later, Taggart is an almost-broke independent Private Investigator, and Mayor Hostetler contacts him for a personal investigation: he suspects his wife, Cathleen Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. Hostetler requests that Taggart finds all of the necessary information prior to the next mayoral election, which is only in a few days’ time. Taggart accepts the deal, mainly because the mayor also offers $50,000 for his service. After Taggart is hired, he discovers layers of lies, adultery, and twisted and misconstrued relationships and learns who he can truly trust.
Overall, the film has high and low points. Crowe redeemed himself from his lackluster performance in Les Miserables (it helps that there’s no singing in Broken City) and had an overly superb New York accent, considering he’s a New Zealander. Zeta-Jones is completely mesmerizing and her role in the story is extremely pivotal, but the script doesn’t warrant her enough screen time so it’s unfortunately difficult for her character to develop depth. Wahlberg shows many different emotional sides to his character, but again, the writing doesn’t allow enough time and pacing to really dig into the many emotions Taggart experiences. Surprisingly, Wright steals the show as the police commissioner, which left me wishing he had more time and a bigger role overall.
The writing, specifically the lack of character depth, is the downfall of the film. The overarching plot line is suspenseful, exciting, and has a “who done it” 1930s mystery feel, but the story is a little too fast-paced before the characters can develop themselves. A tad bit of romance is thrown into the story, and makes no difference and is completely insignificant at the end of the film. The plot twists are the most intriguing aspects of the script – next to the occasional perfectly-timed one-lined zingers – and are what kept my interest throughout the film. Broken City was set in New York but filmed in New Orleans, and director Allen Hughes did a fantastic job of creating the corrupt-New York-slum feel, but as previously stated, the overall feel of the film would have been more realistic if it was set in the 1930s, rather than present day.
Despite the stigma of having a January release date, Broken City was overall better than I expected. The plot twists and humor propelled the film, despite the disappointing characters and unnecessary romance. Yes, the actors have previously performed in much higher quality films and they will do so again in the future, but in the end, Broken City is slightly better than your average January movie.
Rated: R (for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence)
Broken City opens in theaters on January 18, 2013.