"Broken City" -- movie review
Release date: January 18, 2013
Directed by: Allen Hughes
Written by: Brian Tucker
Coming in fairly under the radar, considering the cast, "Broken City" features Mark Wahlberg as New York City cop, Billy Taggart. When the film opens, Wahlberg is standing over a dead body, smoking gun in hand. The body is that of an accused rapist, who was acquitted of the charges. Taggart is accused of killing the victim in cold blood and the people want him to pay for his crime. After all, not even a cop can get away with murder. Billy is a good cop, with good intentions and Mayor Nicholas Hostelter sees this. When a video tape emerges, evidence of Billy's cold-blooded killing, the Mayor and the Chief of Police (Jeffrey Wright) make it disappear, knowing that the city is better off with the victim deceased.
Seven years later, Billy is working has a private investigator. He has a chippy secretary, because all P.I.s have one -- and a girlfriend who is an actress and about to star in a highly anticipated independent movie, which is expected to make her a pretty big deal. Billy spends most of his time investigating cheating spouses and not getting paid, because he's just too nice of a guy to ask for money up front. Just when things get bleak, Mayor Hostelter shows up, offering fifty grand if Billy can find out who Mrs. Mayor Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is sleeping with. His investigation leads to a conspiracy to buy up a crappy neighborhood involving the opposing Mayoral candidate (Barry Pepper), a Human Rights movement and a few other things that are just shoehorned in to make it seem like there is a lot going on.
It's clear pretty early on that the director, Allen Hughes of Hughes Brothers fame ("Dead Presidents", "From Hell") and first time screenwriter Brian Tucker were never on the same page. Tucker's script plays out like a old noir detective caper. It could have been a Phillip Marlowe movie or this generation's "Chinatown", but Hughes directs it into more of thug drama about the corruption in city government. There is so much going on -- and not all of it is directly linked to the driving plot -- that becomes hard to focus on which clues you're supposed to be paying attention to.
That's exactly the problem. There is too much going on. Every character has a secret but you almost need a score card to keep track of plot points. Hostetler's wife is a Human Rights activist -- the recent decision to legalize gay marriage in New York plays a bit part in the background. There are a lot of interesting things going on and it manages to keep you guessing, as a solid mystery should, but it all comes at you so fast that it never takes the time to let the story play out. It seems to be telling several different stories. Between Billy dealing with the aftermath of killing the rapist, the failing marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Hostetler, the battle between pride and shame of being gay, which never has meaning to the overall plot -- it's just kinda thrown in to let you know that the filmmakers read they NY Post while they were filming -- and then the overall battle between Billy himself and the Mayor, who is using Billy to make sure he gets re-elected. It's exhausting and not as interesting as it should have been.
Because of this, the performances are a little all over the place, too. Russell Crowe, is solid as the charming but inherently dirty Mayor. He and Jeffrey Wright are about the only ones that feel like characters they are playing. Mark Wahlberg, who is either very good or just kind of lost in his role, is relegated to tough guy one-liners and a grumpy scowl, proving that he needs to be working with a great director who knows how to get the most out of him. Unfortunately, he is saddled with a ridiculous and unnecessary girlfriend problem that does nothing more than to set up the fact that he a recovering alcoholic. It never feels authentic and nearly every character is filled with all the clichés you can possibly imagine.
"Broken City" is a run of the mill movie that could have been so much more. Despite a solid cast, the movie suffers from identity crisis. As a detective crime thriller it had promise but questionable casting decisions and the director's negligence or refusal to see the movie for what it really is causes it to fall apart in the end. It's interesting but once all the plot points dropped you'll feel like you've seen it all before and one better.
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