Director: Allen Hughes
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kyle Chandler, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey Wright
RunTime: 1 hr 49 mins
Rating: NC-16 (Coarse Language and Sexual Scene)
Released By: Cathay-Keris Films & InnoForm Media
Official Website: http://www.brokencitymovie.com/
Opening Day: 18 April 2013
Synopsis: Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) has a promising career as a New York City cop until the night he is involved in a controversial shooting. Stripped of his badge, but kept out of jail by New York's popular Mayor (Russell Crowe), he re-makes himself as a private investigator. Times are tough, and when the mayor offers Billy $50,000 to investigate the First Lady's (Catherine Zeta Jones) extra-marital activities, it seems like a straight forward payday. Unfortunately, it quickly becomes apparent that the Mayor is not at all what he seems, and for Billy to achieve redemption he will have to risk everything - possibly even his freedom.
With a heavyweight cast the likes of Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe as leads and Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright and Barry Pepper as supporting, ‘Broken City’ ought to be so much better than the ho-hum political thriller it is. And yet, like its title, there is something broken about this yarn, the fault of that not of the cast but rather its writer Brian Tucker and its director Allen Hughes. Indeed, both seem to be stuck in a different era from this one, so much so that their tale of corruption in the Big Apple seems utterly anachronistic and embarrassingly ham-fisted.
Whether the casting or the storytelling came first is moot, but when you manage to get both Wahlberg and Crowe to sign up for a film that pits one against the other, you better give them something damn good to work with. To Tucker’s credit, both Wahlberg and Crowe’s roles do play to their strengths. Wahlberg’s disgraced former cop Billy Taggart is much like the earnest blue-collar character he has played well in previous movies like ‘Contraband’ and ‘Four Brothers’; while Crowe’s self-confident New York City Mayor Nicolas Hostetler is a variant of his alpha male roles in ‘American Gangster’ and ‘Body of Lies’.
Sadly, that is about as far as Tucker gets. His first produced screenplay (which was apparently on the coveted Black List of unproduced scripts a few years ago before it was picked up) spins an all-too familiar story out of equally clichéd elements – a real-estate scam, a re-election campaign and a flawed hero searching for redemption. You can pretty much guess how it is going to unfold when Billy is called in by Nicolas to help collect evidence of his wife Cathleen’s (Zeta-Jones) indiscretion, the apparent adulterer turning out to be the campaign manager of Hostetler’s chief re-election rival, Jack Valliant (Pepper).
Long before it takes Billy to put two and two together and realise that Nicolas has been undercutting the city and its folks to fatten his own pockets along with that of his Wall Street cronies, you’re already folding your arms waiting for the moment when Billy will confront Nicolas and ultimately do the moral thing despite the latter having evidence of Billy’s previous indiscretion made none too ambiguous in the opening prologue. Even though it is plainly clear to his audience, Tucker intentionally makes the proceedings convoluted by overstuffing it with supporting characters – including a conniving police commissioner Carl (Wright) whose loyalties are not immediately clear and a shady businessman’s son (James Ransone) in a crisis of conscience after finding out his father’s dealings.
Certainly, it doesn’t help that Hughes’ direction – his first solo outing without his brother Albert – is surprisingly inept. A sequence where Billy loses his cool after seeing an explicit sex scene in the independent film his girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez) stars in is meant to add complexity to Wahlberg’s character, but ends up going nowhere. Even more shocking is a key scene where Billy so conveniently picks up a box of incriminating evidence that has just been thrown out by the same group of people shredding other important documents in the office, the ludicrousness of that setup matched only at the climax when it turns out one critical page of evidence still remains so expediently intact. Such glaring loopholes are hardly mitigated by the noir-ish feel that Hughes does bring to the film, a pale comparison though when held against the gritty city types he used to do in ‘Menace II Society’ and ‘American Pimp’.
The fact that it remains watchable is credit to the A-list cast Hughes has somehow managed to assemble. Wahlberg knows the role of a flawed cop like the back of his hand, and his character benefits from the assuredness of an actor who has played the part many times before. On the other hand, Crowe – not often seen as a villain – brings magnetism and menace in equal measure as Nicolas, lighting up the screen especially in the film’s most riveting sequence that has him going against his opponent in a showy mayoral debate. Supporting perfs are good, but it is the interplay between Wahlberg and Crowe that truly crackles.
Pity then that the movie rarely lives up to the potential of its heavyweight cast with clumsy plotting and even more inept direction. Ultimately, its tale of political corruption in modern-day New York is dated from the get-go, and neither Hughes nor Tucker seem to be savvy enough to realise that, resulting in a setup that is contrived and unconvincing. And because of that deafness, ‘Broken City’ is already broken right from the start, offering only the most formulaic thrills within a irreversibly flawed and altogether clichéd premise.
(A tone-deaf political thriller whose plot machinations seem stuck in an older bygone era, this all-too formulaic movie is watchable only for its A-list stars)
Review by Gabriel Chong