Despite a great cast and an interesting concept, this sub-par political thriller never pulls it off.
At the heart of Broken City is a somewhat intriguing mystery surrounding New York City Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and the hiring of ex-cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) to investigate the infidelities of his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Taggart’s back story is that seven years prior, he was put on trial for murder of a suspected rapist, while on duty, and despite beating the charge was ushered off the force due to the controversy. But the Mayor viewed him as a hero and never forgets, culminating in the call to the now Private Investigator Taggart. When Taggart does get the call, mere days prior to the mayoral election no less, he should probably be aware that there’s more to it than just the Mayor’s wife sleeping around — as should the audience.
While the film is littered with proven faces, like the aforementioned names, but also Jeffrey Wright as Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks, Barry Pepper as Hostetler’s opponent, the more liberal Jack Valliant, and Kyle Chandler as his Campaign Manager, Paul Andrews. Director Allen Hughes (the first without his brother Albert, who made waves with Menace II Society and Dead Presidents) just isn’t able to raise the material to the next level. He’s able to keep it moving so that the central mystery stays intriguing just enough to stick with it, but it’s otherwise a bland and mediocre film. And whether the success — if it can even be called that — is really the product of Hughes’ direction or due to the loads of talent he lined up, is debatable.
Either way, the film is littered with inconsequential subplots, like the one about Taggart’s relationship with his girlfriend Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez) who’s debuting as an actress in her first indie film. She’s also the sister of a murder/rape victim, and the suspect was the one Taggart killed seven years earlier. This, like others, are somehow supposed to illuminate Taggart’s struggles and tie into the main plot in a significant way, but Hughes never makes the case for why it matters other than, on top of all of Taggart’s issues he’s also jealous about his girlfriend sleeping with the lead actor in her movie. Really, the film consistently fails whenever it tries to be clever, as in bringing back one liners an hour later, presumably in an attempt at humor or illustrating how character’s have come full circle, and these moments almost always pull away from the film. It works best when it’s just being straight and allows its characters, and actors, to get on with the task at hand.
The script which, after viewing, was inexplicably on the Black List (a list of the best, unproduced screenplays), one can sense how it got that honor, but, if the script was really that great, then more blame should be laid upon Hughes for boiling it down to a half-baked thriller that would have been mediocre in the mid-90’s. Those with nothing better to do on a Friday night may find it entertaining, but others should wait for it to pop up at midnight on TBS during a bout of insomnia.
Rating: 2.5 out of 5