By Josh Martin
Broken City takes us into modern New York City, where we are introduced to ex-police officer Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), seven years after a narrow elusion of a murder conviction that disgraced him from the force and the city. He now makes due as a cut-rate private eye, snapping photos of unfaithful spouses, while struggling to successfully stay safe and collect debts.
The plot begins to develop when New York City Mayor Nicolas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), an old friend of Taggart’s, calls him in and asks him to investigate his wife Cathleen Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) under suspicions of infidelity. In the face of a $25,000 check Taggart blindly accepts, unknowingly signing himself over as a pawn in a corrupt campaign crusade against Hostetler’s opponent for the upcoming election.
Director Allen Hughes (Book of Eli, From Hell) presents a sort of throwback political crime thriller, playing on the commentary of corruption and the shady political climate of urban democracies. His execution, however, is suspect, leaving a disappointing taste that reeks of wasted potential. The lackluster screenwriting makes for a less than riveting journey though what could have been a relatively original and compelling plot. Perhaps if more screen time were given to Crowe and his phenomenal portrayal of NYC political juggernaut Hostetler instead of the seemingly insignificant and mediocre dialogue between Taggart and his actress girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez), there would have been enough room to truly capture the essence of the corruption in City Hall. There was also a clearly significant but underdeveloped picture of Hostetler’s political competition, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), a simple and redeeming personality contrasting Crowe’s character and associates throughout the movie.
Throughout the film, whether it was the rough-around-the-edges, washed up and reckless protagonist that is nearly impossible to relate to, or the in-too-deep corrupt politicians with the ‘ends justify the means’ attitudes, the characters are underdeveloped, predictable and offer little human connection that bridges the message to the receiver. The narrative is too sporadic and spread thin for the nature of the film, leaving no heroes and no clear presiding moral stances besides “murder is wrong” and “corruption is bad”.
Despite the weak writing and storyline, Crowe and Wahlberg do the best they could have been asked of with the roles they assumed. Also, with what little time Zeta-Jones had on the screen with Crowe, they retained a consistent gripping chemistry of tension that inspired intrigue and left me craving more of it (and less of Taggarts bouts with his girlfriend and alcoholism). In conclusion, if you are entertained enough by this stellar cast in their previous performances to give the film the benefit of the doubt, I recommend giving it a shot and deciding for yourself whether or not the story falling flat on its face neutralizes any appreciation you can have for the movie.