There’s more that needs fixing here than just a city.
BROKEN CITY (2013), now available on Blu-Ray, is a thriller about an ex-cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) who gets tangled up with an unscrupulous big city mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and as a result finds himself embroiled in political intrigue and murder.
The movie opens as Taggart shoots and kills a suspected murderer and rapist, and then is found innocent of the crime because both the mayor and the Commissioner of Police Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) suppress video evidence which would have proven Taggart’s guilt. In order to cover his political butt, Mayor Hostetler tells Taggart that the price he has to pay for his “innocence” is that he must leave the police force.
Seven years later, Taggart is working as a private detective. Business is not very good, and his secretary Katy (Alona Tal) spends most her time trying to track down former clients who still owe them money.
Out of the blue, Mayor Hostetler contacts Taggart and offers him a job. He tells Taggart that he suspects his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair, and he wants Taggart to prove it. Taggart desperately needs the money, and so he takes the case.
Of course, being the unsavory character that he is, Mayor Hostetler has ulterior motives, and Taggart soon finds himself in way over his head.
BROKEN CITY is almost saved by the strong performances of its two leads, Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, but is ultimately done in by a weak script that just can’t seem to hold its story of political intrigue and murder together. The bottom line is it’s just not very believable.
I enjoyed Mark Wahlberg a lot as Billy Taggart. It’s a typical role for Wahlberg, as he’s a blue collar law enforcement officer, a recovering alcoholic, and a genuine nice guy, as long as you look the other way when he takes the law into his own hands. While I liked his performance in 2 GUNS (2013) a bit more than this one, he’s reached the point where he’s almost always enjoyable.
I was also impressed with Russell Crowe as Mayor Hostetler. After back to back subpar performances in THE MAN WITH THE IRON FISTS (2012) and LES MISERABLES (2012), Crowe has immediately turned things around with impressive performances in MAN OF STEEL (2013) as Superman’s father Jor-El, and in this movie. Crowe is credible as the cut-throat mayor who’s not above committing crimes to save his political skin. He makes a nice nasty villain in this one, and he’s deliciously icy in the role.
The rest of the cast runs hot and cold.
Catherine Zeta-Jones is okay as Hostetler’s wife Cathleen, in what turns out to be a thankless role. Jeffrey Wright seems to be stuck with a permanent scowl on his face as the police commissioner Carl Fairbanks. Wright was much more impressive and memorable as Felix Leiter in the Daniel Craig James Bond flicks CASINO ROYALE (2006) and QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008).
Barry Pepper is oddly cast as Jack Valliant, the man who’s running against Hostetler in a fierce mayoral campaign. Pepper looks more like a drug pusher than a politician. Kyle Chandler plays Valliant’s campaign manager Paul Andrews, and Griffin Dunne is wasted in a nothing role as Sam Lancaster, a man with deep pockets who contributes to Hostetler’s campaign.
Only Alona Tal stands out as Taggart’s secretary Katy. It’s a nice performance by Tal, and other than Wahlberg and Crowe, she gives the best performance in the movie. Her Katy is a vibrant character, and I had a hard time taking my eyes off her when she was onscreen.
Natalie Martinez is acceptable as Taggart’s actress girlfriend Natalie Barrow, whose 16 year-old sister happened to be the victim of the rapist/murderer that Taggart killed in the film’s opening.
But in spite of the decent acting, BROKEN CITY gets bogged down in a story that never convinced me that it was real. The screenplay by Brian Tucker fails to include a credible threat. We know that Crowe’s Mayor Hostetler is a dirty politician, capable of criminal activities, but the shady deal he’s involved with, the political hot potato that he must break the law for in order to get re-elected, is hardly intriguing. It involves some shady real estate deals that frankly not even Lex Luthor would get that excited about.
And then there’s the plot with Hostetler’s wife and her extramarital affair. The mayor hires Taggart to prove that she’s sleeping with another man, and you can tell from the outset that Hostetler is not a man to be trusted, and so you suspect that he’s up to something else. When this proves to be true, you’re hardly surprised.
When Taggart finally catches onto the game Hostetler is playing at his expense, he fights back and attempts to coerce the mayor into backing off, at which time Hostetler reveals his hand and shows Taggart the evidence he has against him in the murder charge from seven years earlier, in effect thwarting Taggart’s efforts. Taggart seems genuinely surprised by this revelation. Considering that Hostetler told Taggart at the beginning of the movie that he had this evidence in his possession, I found it difficult to believe that a street wise former cop like Taggart would have forgotten this vital piece of information.
BROKEN CITY was directed by Allen Hughes, who along with his brother Albert, also directed THE BOOK OF ELI (2010) starring Denzel Washington, and the Johnny Depp horror movie FROM HELL (2001). Both those films had a bit more bite than this one, but in terms of style, I liked BROKEN CITY more than THE BOOK OF ELI. BROKEN CITY is a polished looking thriller, with enough dark scenes of its broken metropolis to satisfy the film noir viewer.
While BROKEN CITY isn’t bad, and if you like Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, you could do a lot worse, at the end of the day, it’s not much more than a standard by the numbers thriller because quite simply it never goes for broke.