Thursday, April 25, 2013

Movie Review: Broken City

Broken City
Directed by: Allen Hughes.
Written by: Brian Tucker.
Starring: Mark Wahlberg (Billy Taggart), Russell Crowe (Mayor Hostetler), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Cathleen Hostetler), Jeffrey Wright (Carl Fairbanks), Barry Pepper (Jack Valliant), Alona Tal (Katy Bradshaw), Natalie Martinez (Natalie Barrow), Michael Beach (Tony Jansen), Kyle Chandler (Paul Andrews), James Ransone (Todd Lancaster), Griffin Dunne (Sam Lancaster).

One of the problems with movies about political corruption these days is that they seem to pale in comparison to the real stories of actual corruption coming out. True, the story told in Broken City involves murder, which is rarely the case in real stories, but other than that it seems like a fairly typical case of corruption – of men using their position of power for their own gain. We’re just much harder to shock anymore.

The movie stars Mark Wahlberg as Billy Taggart a cop, who when the movie opens, is being charged with murder, although the case never makes it past the preliminary hearing – but it is enough to get him booted off the force. Now, 7 years later, he is a P.I. in New York, struggling to pay the bills. That is when his old friend Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) calls him up. He thinks his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is cheating on him – which could cause him embarrassment is his tightly contested re-election campaign. He wants Billy to follow her and see who she meets – and for this job he’ll get $50,000. Billy does so, finds the answer, and when that man turns up dead, decides to keep on digging and discovers much more to the story that he thought.

The film was directed by Allan Hughes – half of the Hughes brother combo who made a great debut in 1993 with Menace II Society – a tougher, more cynical version of Boyz in the Hood (which helps to explain why it isn’t as popular as the later, even if it’s just as good). For whatever reason, the Hughes brothers haven’t made a lot of films in the two decades since – just Dead Presidents (1995), American Pimp (1999), From Hell (2001) and The Book of Eli (2010). This represents the first feature Allan has made apart for his brother Albert (Allan did a short as part of New York, I Love You by himself) – and Albert has a solo project of his own in the works. I hope the two haven’t split up, and continue to make movies, because together they can be excellent. And Broken City, it must be said, has a gritty visual look – New York has rarely looked this dirty, which matches the subject matter.

The problem with the film has little to do with the direction, and far more to do with screenplay by Brian Tucker. In short, it is a fairly uninspired script, full of perfunctory dialogue, supporting characters who don’t go anywhere – like Wahlberg’s girlfriend played by Natalie Martinez or his assistant played by Alona Tal – and twists you can see coming a mile away. The basic plot outline isn’t bad, but it isn’t enough, and the film has numerous plot holes.

With the material he is given, Wahlberg does as well as can be expected. He has cultivated a screen image of himself as a tough guy – but a realistic tough guy, someone who audiences can relate to and root for, even if they are flawed. And that pretty much describes Billy Taggert. Had the rest of the cast matched him, Broken City probably would have been a better movie – not necessarily a good one, but a decent time waster. Alas, they do not. Russell Crowe sleepwalks through his role – the movie seems to have been little more than a paycheck for him, and it shows, as Crowe who can be as intense as anyone, barely seems to give a shit here. You can’t really blame Catherine Zeta-Jones for her lackluster performance, because the movie gives her nothing to work with. The same could be said for key supporting roles like Jeffrey Wright as the Police Commissionor or Barry Pepper as the mayor’s rival. Neither are bad per se, but they aren’t really given the opportunity to be very good either.

In short, Broken City just kind of sits there on the screen. Hughes does what he can with the script he has, but there is nothing really to sink your teeth into. In total, this is a pretty lazy effort all the way around.

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