Director: Allen Hughes
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey White, Kyle Chandler, Natalie Martinez, Alona Tal
Plot: Taggart, a private investigator (Wahlberg), is hired by an old friend, the Mayor (Crowe) to follow his wife to see if she is cheating on him. However, as election day looms, Taggart wonders if he is being set-up.
I really wanted to like Broken City. It seemed like my kind of film, when the trailer came out way back in early 2013. It had a touch of Noir, a decent political mystery attached to it and some of the names attracted me to it. However, after bad review after bad review washed over this film, I ended up focusing on other things to review for that time of year. However, as 2014 kicks off to a fine start, I felt compelled to look back at some of the 2013 films I missed, Broken City being one of the ones I was looking forward to the most. Sadly, those bad reviews turned out to be hitting the nail right on the head.
It’s not that Broken City is a bad film. It opens with a standard Noir stock hero. A cop shoots a rapist in cold blood and the public scream about police brutality. The Mayor pulls some strings and gets police officer, Taggart, out of jail, but off the force. Fast forward, seven years and we see actor Mark Wahlberg in pretty standard Noir hero situation: spying on cheating spouses and struggling to keep up with the bills. Then things pick up, when Crowe’s Mayor throws a case into Taggart’s lap. He thinks his wife is cheating on him and wants Taggart to help him figure out who, before his opposition catches wind of it and uses it against him on election day. Of course, it’s never that simple and Taggart finds himself, unable to trust anyone and confronting his past. As you can see, it is all very by-the-books Noir thriller material.
I don’t overly mind the predictable background. Noir, after all, is built on clichés and stock characters. It is just that Broken City doesn’t feel particularly worthy of the genre. Allen Hughes is a pretty boring director. There are no stylish shots, or impressive camera manoeuvres. He simply takes a script and makes a movie out of it. The script also has its own problems. The story, for the most part, is competent and Broken City does weave an interesting tale that will keep you mildly entertained. There’s just too much to get through, exposition-wise. This is the kind of script that would have been better suited being adapted into a novel, as the political back-stabbing between Mayor Hostelier and the Police Commissioner would have been easier to pick up. Time could have been spent developing the characters and weaving the mystery. As it stands, the movie gets so lost in the story that we never really get a chance to explore any of the themes or characters. I watched this movie to find out how it would end, rather than watching it because I was enjoying the story. Everything is just so bland and grey.
I kept thinking the movie was about to slow down and focus on something interesting. Take his girlfriend, played by Natalie Martinez, for instance. She is an actress starring in her first lead role and when Taggart is dragged along to the premiere, he is treated to two hours of watching his love interest have sex with a stuck-up actor/director. That could have been interesting. A few more beats spent here could have explored the idea that Taggart spends his work life watching people have sex on camera, and now his home life has also become that. That could symbolise the two-faced world around him. How his own girlfriend is technically a professional liar. It could mean how Taggart’s job is consuming him. It could have gone down almost any direction, making a statement that wasn’t to do with the story. But after this scene, the girlfriend literally disappears from the plot (I am not even exaggerating). It felt like a waste of sub-plot, because it was so quickly dropped. Natalie Martinez might not be the strongest actress out there, but this is two things I have seen her in (the other being the TV Season, Under the Dome), that haven’t even really given her the material to tell anyone any different.
With a cumbersome story and bland direction, the movie has to be saved by its actors. Mark Wahlberg is just as bland as the direction. I like Wahlberg as an actor and I appreciate that he wanted Taggart to be a drifting soul. Hell, if the script wasn’t giving him much personality other than ‘short fuse and blunt’, then perhaps he made a dramatic reading out of that. It’s just that most of the movie relies on him to hold a scene together and when he is being misused, it just falls down around him. Stronger are Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Russell Crowe milks the cheesy Mayor role for all of its worth and it is actually quite nice to see him have fun, rather than do a Jean Valjean impression for a Noah and the Ark movie. I loved the underlying layer of malice, as he caresses his wife, while, at the same time, shackling her to him. It hinted that Hughes was a fairly competent director, but seeing as everything else lacks imagination, perhaps this was Crowe’s contribution to the character. Catherine Zeta Jones is better, slipping into the role of mysterious Noir dame like a second skin. She handles subtle sexuality and glamour, coupled with this sense that she is a coiled viper, waiting to strike. Sadly, both of these actors, despite the story being essentially about them, feel side-lined, only called upon when the story demands it.
Final Verdict: Interesting enough, but it is so by the books that it is difficult to summon up too much emotion for the movie.