Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones
You may like this if you like: City Hall (Harold Becker, 1996), State of Play (Kevin Macdonald, 2009), Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)
In New York private investigator and ex cop Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) is hired by Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Crowe) to investigate his wife’s infidelity. Desperate for the money, Taggart is happy to accept and tries to uncover the identity of the man before an approaching mayoral election. Despite warnings from Hostetler’s wife (Zeta-Jones) Taggart reveals to Hostetler that the man in question is Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), the campaign manager for Hostetler’s rival and favourite Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper) to win the election. However, as anyone who has even seen the poster will know, later developments reveal things to be far more complicated.
If you ever want a definition of ‘genre piece’, then Broken City comes pretty close to that. Even the poster tells you everything you need to know about the plot and who is who. This is an extremely well made and put together thriller, but so incredibly generic that you will see every plot ‘twist’ before it happens. Unfortunately this is all shown with such serious stoicism that Broken City does almost border on patronising and insulting to the average viewer.
Russell Crowe, complete with fake tan, comb over and dodgy accent is obviously as bent as nine bob note (an English phrase there) that when he and Zeta-Jones pose certain questions to the reliably intense Wahlberg we are just thinking “get on with it” as we know there is some serious corruption going on. There are obvious nods and winks to noir thrillers of the past (such as Chinatown), and that is fine but Broken City lacks any ambition to do something different with what is a very tried and tested narrative. Everything you see in this film you will have seen before, and I am afraid to say done much better. Due to the serious tone, this is obviously a film that takes itself very seriously and at times appears to think the audience is a little stupid, which is a little insulting considering we are usually one step ahead of the plot.
All that said, Broken City is well shot and put together, and is always just about watchable. The high rise city shots and cinematography adding a good atmosphere that is crying out for more substance plot wise. The dialogue is surprisingly sharp, though of course let down by the generic and predictable plot. The performances from all are more than adequate but never spectacular. Due to the serious tone, there is never also any fun to be had. Considering the totally serious tone this does make the film feel like a very long 109 minutes at times.
What we see here almost feels like the rough draft of a script that could have done with a few more re writes to add more intriguing twists and turns and maybe slightly less clichéd characters that are also more sympathetic. At its heart this could have a very compelling genre piece, but there appears to be either a lack of ambition, or a demonstration of total complacency from all making this. Ok, so there is one good twist near the end and the ending is not actually a cop out with a bit of emotional pay off, but would have been so much better if we were given a more sympathetic protagonist.
On a side note, this film is obviously sponsored by Jameson whisky as in every other scene someone orders one or pours from a bottle of it. Perhaps it is a clear indication of this film’s lack of ability to completely engage that I noticed that?
Competently made, competently acted and competently plotted. Broken City had the potential and is perfectly watchable, but lacks any ambition or genuine ingenuity to stand above superior similar political dramas.