Movie Review: Broken City

By Matthew Huntley

January 28, 2013

I thought I was better than projects like this but apparently I'm not.

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Broken City is neither a good movie nor a bad movie. Everything about it feels mediocre - the plot, the characterizations, the performances. Its purpose remains questionable because, as entertainment goes, it’s not especially gripping or emotional, and as a commentary on our current political system, it’s not terribly fresh or insightful. I ultimately walked away from it wondering why it was made.

Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a former New York City cop turned private investigator whose chief job, it seems, is photographing unfaithful husbands and wives having affairs. Billy catches them in the act, and it’s a dangerous gig, but when it comes time for his clients to pay up, he and his assistant Katy (Alona Tal) find themselves at a loss and making threats over the phone. Their business is now $42,000 in debt. Maybe an offer from the mayor will turn things around.

Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) asks Billy to come in for a meeting. Aside from a drink, which Billy refuses after being on the wagon for seven years, the mayor offers him a $50,000 contract to tail and snap photos of his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom he suspects is sleeping around. This isn’t the first time Billy has had contact with the mayor. A few years ago, Billy was being prosecuted in a wrongful shooting case that the people of New York claimed was murder. The mayor put up a fight with the chief of police, Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright), to make sure incriminating evidence against Billy was never submitted and thus kept him out of jail, though he was forced to resign as a cop.


Now an election is coming up and the mayor is going head to head with Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), a young, rich idealist who claims to be immune to corruption. To make sure the mayor has all his cards in order, he wants Billy to find out who his wife is spending all her free time with, which, as it turns out, is Valliant’s campaign manager (Kyle Chandler).

So it goes with movies of this nature, the plot within Brian Tucker’s screenplay grows thicker with each passing scene, revealing characters’ hidden motivations, wrongfully assumed relationships, and interconnections that seemed to have been tossed in just to raise the overall “juiciness” level. All the while, we’re asked to invest ourselves in Billy because he’s caught in the middle, trying to balance his morals with his objectives, his alcohol addiction with his jealousy over his actress-girlfriend’s (Natalie Martinez) love scene in her new independent movie, and his guilt with his past sins.

The question is, does the movie get us to care about Billy or the scheme he uncovers? The answer: sort of. Billy is sympathetic enough, and Wahlberg makes him raw and down-to-earth, but while watching Broken City, I couldn’t shake the idea there wasn’t enough fresh or interesting substance to give it meaning or make it worth our time. Its message is clear - corruption exists at all levels of politics and things aren’t always what they seem, etc., but this is obvious and other movies, not to mention the real-life news, have told us this before.

So what role does Broken City play? Is it entertaining? Thoughtful? In some aspects, yes, but its effects are short-lived. In most others, it’s a run-of-the-mill drama that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table. It has a competent rhythm, and director Allen Hughes keeps the narrative moving to prevent us from being bored, but he’s never able to elevate it to the level of intriguing. All in all, you could do a lot worse than seeing Broken City, but by the same token, you could do a lot better.



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