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Broken City

2013 | 109 min | R | 2.39:1

Broken City


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Theatrical release date

 18 January, 2013
 01 March, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

Box office




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Broken City Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 17, 2013

“Broken City” starts off with tremendous confidence, establishing a story that pits corrupt politicians against corrupt cops during an election season, with the future of New York City at stake. It’s Mark Wahlberg vs. Russell Crowe in a big screen battle of brawn, with director Allen Hughes creating an enticing web of lies to examine as the film unfolds. There’s promise here, and a satisfying opening act. And then the production begins to break down under the weight of its own ambition, laboring to make plot points stick and characters significant, eventually stumbling to a most unsatisfying close. In trying to super-size its suspenseful interests, “Broken City” becomes a broken record, hitting formulaic notes of fraud when the script is more convincing as a visceral study of men behaving badly.

A cop with a heart of gold, Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) was facing a dire future when hit with murder charges after the illicit shooting of a rapist. Due to the underhanded efforts of Mayor Hostetler (a pleasingly arrogant and very, very orange Russell Crowe), Billy avoided prison, and now seven years later the leader of New York City is looking for some special help. Now a private investigator facing bankruptcy, Billy is handed a sizable payday by Hostetler to spy on his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who he suspects of having an affair with Paul (Kyle Chandler), the campaign manager of his mayoral election rival, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). Accepting the money, Billy begins his investigation, uncovering exactly what Hostetler feared, while fighting distractions caused by his weakening relationship with actress girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez), which prompts a resurgence of his alcoholism. Following through with his duty, Billy’s world is rocked when a dead body is discovered, placing him the middle of a political and criminal firestorm that’s out to make him the fall guy.

“Broken City” marks the directorial introduction of Allen Hughes, one half of The Hughes Brothers, the twin masterminds of films such as “The Book of Eli,” “From Hell,” and “Menace II Society.” Breaking out on his own, Allen Hughes falls back on dependable material, working with a screenplay by Brian Tucker (his debut as a writer) that digs deep into the moral morass of those in charge of protecting the innocent, working a stagnant metropolis that seems to be fueled entirely by corruption. It’s a meaty premise, and the opening 40 minutes certainly convinces with its defined characters and electro-tinged musical score, which introduces pulse to the proceedings, as though something dramatically monumental is being constructed, with Hughes pilfering pieces of ‘70s cinema to help strengthen his foundation. The material is also refreshingly blunt, establishing Billy as the sole killer of the rapist, without trying to massage an extended question of guilt for the rest of the movie. At the outset of “Broken City,” everyone is a creep, launching the conflict with an invigorating sense of disease, giving Hughes plenty of room to work.

Once the dead body arrives and schemes begin to unravel, “Broken City” follows suit, trying to maintain electricity to subplots concerning Valliant’s sexual activity, Hostetler’s controversial billion dollar land deal he pushes a cure-all for NYC’s mounting debt, Billy’s troubled relationship with Natalie and his history with the housing project Hostetler put up for sale, Cathleen’s entanglements with Paul, and the curious presence of shadowy Police Chief Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright). It’s wide range of interests to follow, and Hughes limits the impact of the feature by hacking away at each perspective, trying to salvage pace through brutal editorial choices that rob the film of profundity, especially when it comes time to explore Billy’s feelings of guilt over his past deeds. There’s also a question of minimizing suspense, with the audience made aware of a key piece of evidence that incriminates Billy in the murder of the rapist, yet the climax of the movie seems to lean toward shock when the ex-cop catches a glimpse of the damaging tape. There’s an atmosphere of confusion hanging over the proceedings that doesn’t seem to emerge exclusively from Tucker’s script, instead originating from an effort that lost its nerve in post-production, scrambling to hit the dramatic highlights without building informative connective tissue.

“Broken City” makes a crucial error in trying to shape Billy into some type of heroic figure, smoothing out his troubles to fit a summation of nobility (complete with a new love interest) that’s patronizing, betraying the war of unapologetic bastards that served the opening of the picture so well. Eventually, Hughes begs to be liked, dropping any pretense of grittiness to make a formulaic political thriller, punctuated by an ending straight out of “Scooby-Doo.” It’s a shame “Broken City” falls apart so readily, as the first act of the movie promises something different from the norm, with its mean streak left only partially realized.

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kyle Chandler, Barry Pepper, Justin Chambers
Director: Allen Hughes

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