Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) was an up and coming detective on the NYPD until his career was ruined by a high profile shooting while on undercover duty. Seven years later, struggling as a private eye, he takes a job from the city’s popular mayor Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to prove his wife Cathleen’s (Catherine Zeta-Jones) adultery. The mayor’s intentions, though, are not what they seem and Billy’s life and liberty are at stake in “Broken City.”
The story of big city corruption, adultery and murder has a done-before feel to it as a disgraced ex-cop is hired by a powerful politician to investigate his wife’s infidelity. Of course, things are not what they first appear to be and the simple private investigation of a cheating wife becomes a much bigger scam involving a real estate deal worth billions. So, lacking originality in story, we are called to rely on the film’s stars to take up the slack.
Stars Wahlberg, Crowe and Zeta-Jones give yeomen’s effort to fleshing out their respective characters but those characters lack dimension. This is a major problem if we are supposed to love or hate the main characters but only feel apathy toward them. First time without his brother Albert co-helming, Allen Hughes take the original script by newcomer scribe Brian Tucker and delivers a suspense thriller that is short on thrills. You know that Mayor Hostetler is a no-goodnik so, when his nefarious plans of greed come to light, the revelation is hardly revealing. Good actors are wasted on mediocre material and Hughes shows little craftsmanship to his solo work. I give it a C+.
When a 16 year old girl is raped and murdered, Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) took justice into his own hands. He got off and Mayor Nicolas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) called him a hero, but he had to turn in his badge and become a P.I. Seven years later, the mayor calls, asking him to find out who his wife is sleeping with just a week before a contentious election. It's a financial and political windfall for Billy, but the deeper he wades in, the more he finds he's traversing a "Broken City."
Working for the first time without twin brother Albert, director Allen Hughes ("From Hell") has plucked a Black Listed screenplay from young writer Brian Tucker and assembled a terrific cast of Oscar winners, box office stars and character actors for a political corruption thriller that looks good on the surface but fails to evoke a real rooting interest. Every important character is sketched out to a point of engagement, only to be allowed to drift off into a vague vapor. There are exceptions, but not enough to make this anything other than standard issue genre fare, albeit one of solid craft.
We catch up with the current day Billy in the background as his girl Friday, Katy Bradshaw (Alona Tal, TV's 'Supernatural'), attempts to collect past due bills. Tals great and she and Wahlberg create that kind of 40's film noir dynamic between private dicks and their tough front office chicks. Soon he's tailing the mayor's wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones, "Rock of Ages," "Playing for Keeps"), and, in short order, photographs her flying into the arms of Paul Chandler (Kyle Chandler, "Zero Dark Thirty"), a decent type Billy's just met on the train, but a man who happens to manage the campaign of the mayor's opponent, Councilman Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper, "Saving Private Ryan"). Cathleen approaches Billy, telling him that what's going on isn't about infidelity and offering to buy him out, but the mayor intercedes. The next thing he knows, Billy's at the murder scene of one Paul Chandler.
The big angle that's at the center of all this makes one wonder if Tucker was inspired by watching 'Boss' on the STZ channel, or if the people behind 'Boss' read his script (in the photo above, the mayor's wife even favors the same style of jewelry as Connie Nielson did). Bolton Village is a NYC public housing development in the middle of a political tug of war and one of the mayor's biggest campaign contributors, Sam Lancaster (Griffin Dunne, "After Hours"), happens to run the development company that's involved. Meanwhile, Billy, who hasn't had a drink in seven years has begun hitting the bottle again. Here's the thing - that's just an 'after,' a promise made to his aspiring actress girlfriend who happens to be the sister of that long ago victim, and it has as many repercussions on his abilities as that girlfriend matters in the scheme of things. She simply disappears and we wonder why she even mattered. Something similar happens to Cathleen, who would seem to be on the side of good except that we don't really know why. The chief of police who reappears after those seven years as Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright, "The Ides of March"), is also a bit hard to pinpoint, but Wright makes him one of the film's most intriguing characters with scant screen time. He also drops the film's capping doozy of a punch line.
The best thing about this film may be how Tucker casts Billy as a homophobe only to have him find himself fighting the good fight for a homosexual couple. And that may just go unnoticed by many in the audience. "Broken City" has so many shards of story line, Hughes is unable to put it back together again.
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10 | Video
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