Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Kyle Chandler, Griffin Dunne | Written by Brian Tucker | Directed by Allen Hughes
Broken City is a place where crime may be low, but the moral corruption seeping from the inner workings of City Hall are at an all-time high. Similar to the Stepford Wives of politics, simply based on face value the world is an ideal place full of purity, but beneath is the seething soul awaiting the next backstabbing deal or shadowy late night bribe. That is the world that director Allen Hughes and screen writer Brian Tucker attempted to create with their latest film. Hughes—who as one half of the Hughes Brothers directing duo gave us the gritting crime drama Menace II Society and the Denzel Washington dystopian disaster film Book of Eli—is now directing his first solo feature. Even greener to the game is Tucker who is making his debut into filmmaking with his first credited screenplay. When looking at the failures of Broken City it’s hard not to point the blame in their direction. Much like its premise the face value of its stacked cast would lead you to believe you are entering the idyllic platform, but the more you divulge into the inner workings you discover a mess of incoherent plot threads and an inability to cohesively bring everything together.
In the film Billy Tagart (Mark Wahlberg) is a former cop with a troubled past who was forced to give up his badge after a shooting incident involving a suspect of a rape case. Now years later he has taken up the private detective business in order to pay the bills. In many ways this film attempts to be a slick Neo-Noir with a modern attitude. It does succeed at creating an old school atmosphere, but lacks that key intriguing central figure. Wahlberg’s character isn’t necessarily a failure due to being a derivative creation, instead he is an empty overcoat of ambient noise lacking any complex stature. He is an amalgamation of character traits interlocked into one big tedious heap of a person. They give him issues like a lingering drinking problem that never amounts to much of anything. After watching his actress girlfriend in a vivid sex scene in her debut Indie film he is driven to give up his sobriety. He becomes a slave to his addiction again for one late night binge, but as quickly as the problem occurs it goes away just as fast. In fact this entire subplot, like many others, fades into the background never to be spoken of again. Not providing consequences to any of these actions made a rather large section of the storyline completely irrelevant.
Eventually Tagart gets hired by Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to discover who is sleeping with his less than trustworthy wife. Crowe provides a much better performance (overdone accent aside) than the material deserves. He works as this oily Mayor who knows how to put a face on for the camera, but when the cameras are off is a crooked politician bent on the absolute destruction of his enemies. As one would expect he has garnered a lot of enemies with his long tenure as mayor. Enemies are at an all time high with election season in full swing. He is amidst a hotly contested race, and for the first time in nearly a decade it appears as if he will not pull this one out. While the character subplots involving Tagart were widely mishandled, the interconnecting of the elements of the Mayor race and Tagart’s involvement with Hostetler were far more effective. It was abundantly clear how and why they related to each other in the overall story arc. Nevertheless, that presented its own form of problems as much of the story is based on keeping you out of the loop.
As Tagart continues with his job for Hostetler, he begins to enter a territory he was not expecting to deal with. Hostetler’s own wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) confronts him on his eagerness to so easily trust her husband. Tagart’s stubborn convictions make him unyielding towards his agreed upon commitments. Before Tagart realizes it he is pulled into a situation with no one to trust. With his future on the line, he attempts to turn the tables on those who thoughts he was nothing more than easy prey. There are a number of twists and turns—none of which are all that surprising. Some general entertainment could be drawn from all these altering storylines, but most will be waiting for the film to catch up to them. It’s like being stuck in a car with someone who is unwilling to admit they are lost. You know the right way to go, but they are committed to driving around in circles before you eventually end up at the desired location. Once you finally get there you are so overcome with frustration there’s little enjoyment to pull from the new found revelations.
When looking at why this movie fails one simply needs to look at a script full of campy dialogue that isn’t nearly as smart as it thinks it is. Lines that attempt to be sly witty quips are actually eye rolling one-liners full of unintentional laughter. Mayor Hostetler does give a curious diatribe about the reason men are called dogs, but for the most part this solid cast is given nothing to work with. It is disappointing because, minus Catherine Zeta-Jones who is apparently only there for name recognition, the performances are there—the material isn’t. It commits that mortal sin of being a plot that is basic in structure but convoluted in execution. You can equally get lost and bored at the same time. There is some intrinsic excitement if you are willing to stick with it through its faults, and there are many similar films that fail far worse than this one. Still it is a film that gives you very little reason for a return visit. Broken City turned out to be a misbegotten maze of an adventure that gets lost inside its own head. You could do far worse than this final result—however there is a ton of latent potential left on the cutting room floor. A film that centers on corruption wasn’t able to stand on its own principles.
Broken City is released on DVD and Blu-ray on June 24th.