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An ex-cop finds himself in over his head when he agrees to help out the mayor of New York City in this tense political thriller from director Allen Hughes. Having had to sacrifice a promising career when he was involved in a controversial shooting, tough street cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is spared a prison stretch by the intervention of the city's popular Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe). Starting afresh as a private investigator, Billy is soon hired by Hostetler to find out if his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is being unfaithful. But when her suspected lover is later found dead, Billy realises too late that the mayor's motives run deeper than expected, and that if he's to stay alive, he needs to take the fight to his opponents, risking all to reveal the truth.
For more about Broken City and the Broken City Blu-ray release, see Broken City Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on April 30, 2013 where this Blu-ray release scored 2.5 out of 5.
Director: Allen Hughes
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Kyle Chandler, Barry Pepper, Justin Chambers
» See full cast & crew
Broken City Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, April 30, 2013
Midway through Broken City, one character incredulously remarks, "Private eyes still exist?" A holdout from the times before no-fault divorce laws—when evidence of infidelity was demanded in court—the gumshoe-for-hire profession does seem old-fashioned and mostly unnecessary now. You could describe Broken City the same way: old-fashioned and mostly unnecessary. Penned by first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker and directed solo by Allen Hughes—one half of the Hughes Brothers, best known for Menace II Society and, most recently, The Book of Eli—the film struggles falteringly to be a neo-noir in the Chinatown mold, all political corruption and moral ambiguity, shady land dealings and romance gone sour. The problem here is that Tucker and Hughes have merely parroted the style instead of reinvigorating it and making it their own. Look no further than Nicholas Winding Refn's Drive to see that film noir has evolved in exciting new ways; conversely, Broken City feels like an ill-considered step backwards, from its tries-too-hard dialogue to its pointlessly convoluted plot, which recycles a few too many genre cliches.
It's unfortunate, because Mark Wahlberg is strong in the role of Billy Taggart, a disgraced former New York City cop who becomes embroiled in a mayoral election year scandal. In the film's prologue, Taggart cold-bloodedly shoots down a black teenager accused of raping and murdering the sixteen-year-old sister of Taggart's actress girlfriend, Natalie (Natalie Martinez). With the help of Police Chief Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) and Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), a piece of crucial evidence against him goes missing and Taggart is acquitted of all charges. He's forced to resign from the force, however, and seven years later he's barely scraping out a living as a private investigator, tracking down unfaithful husbands by night and hounding their wives for late payments by day. Naturally—as these sorts of films go—he's also a recovering alcoholic, forever tempted by the bottle.
Shortly before the election, Taggart gets an out-of-the-blue call from Hostetler, who's in a tight race against liberal up-and-comer Jack Valliant—how's that for a too-obvious name?—played by a long-haired Barry Pepper. Hostetler suspects that his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is having an affair, and he's worried that Valliant's campaign manager, Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), will somehow use this against him, noting—rather unbelievably—that citizens will elect a homosexual or a minority, but not a cuckold. He hires Taggart to find out what he can about Cathleen's extramarital activities, and—shock of shocks—the P.I. discovers that the mayor's wife has been rendezvousing with none other than Mr. Paul Andrews, meeting at a beach house out in Montauk.
Nothing is exactly as it initially seems, though, and from here the plot becomes increasingly knotted, wrapped around a $6 billion insider land development deal that could screw over the residents of a massive public housing project. An assassination meant to look like a robbery, a marriage on the rocks, a secret gay affair, a construction company heir with daddy issues—every new twist elicits more of a "huh?" than an "oh, wow." As proof that there's too much going on here, each development requires oodles of expository monologues just to explain the basics of what's happening. (I haven't even mentioned Taggart's hatred of liberal, fedora-wearing Hollywood types, manifested in an entirely unnecessary subplot about his girlfriend's nascent movie career.) On the subject of the dialogue—it's awful, going for that curt, sharp Raymond Chandler-by-way-of-David Mamet-speak but sounding phony and overwrought. Take this little speech from the police chief to Taggart: "I'm taking Hostetler down. If he sees election day, it'll be inside a cage, like a monkey. Now, you either help me, or you'll be in there with him sucking on bananas too."
It's hard to say whether the dialogue affects the quality of the performances or vice versa, but much of the acting here is weirdly off. With wiry blond hair and a bad New Yawk accent, Russell Crowe seems completely out of place, and Catherine Zeta-Jones—the closest the film comes to a femme fatale —is almost sluggish onscreen. (It doesn't help that she's practically written out of the movie by the end of the second act.) The worst offenders, though, are Natalie Martinez and Alona Tal—who plays Taggart's spunky secretary—both of whom offer up strangely stilted line readings, sometimes accenting awkward sylables. Character Jeffrey Wright is solid as usual, though—you may remember him from Syriana or Casino Royale—and he stands tall with Mark Wahlberg while the rest of the movie cracks and crumbles around them, as dysfunctional as the titular city. Still, despite its many flaws, the movie is more disappointing than outright, immediately dismissible bad. It's watchable, at the very least. To give some sort of gauge, I'd never actively seek it out to see it again, but I'd probably sit through it on a long plane ride if I had no other entertainment options.
Broken City Blu-ray, Video Quality
Broken City was shot digitally with Arri Alexa HD cameras, but you'd hardly know it; most of the movie has a gritty, textured, almost film-like quality that the Blu-ray's 1080p/AVC encode captures well. There are a few darker scenes where the source noise spikes maybe a bit too intensely— taking on a more mottled look, with crushed shadows and decreased detail—but overall, the image has a satisfying aesthetic. Closeups reveal easily visible fine textures in the actors' faces and clothing—see Mark Wahlberg's stubble or Catherine Zeta-Jones' gauzy shawl—and while there are some noticeably soft wide shots, these are few and far between. Color density is strong, and the grading favors yellows and blues, with generally warm skin tones paired against cooler accents. Although contrast is usually excellent, there are the aforementioned darker sequences where black levels can seem just a little too intense. Then again, this is arguably all part of the dreary neo-noir style Hughes and cinematographer Ben Seresin are going for. I spotted no evidence of heavy digital noise reduction or edge enhancement, and there are no obvious compression or encode issues. Looks good to me.
Broken City Blu-ray, Audio Quality
20th Century Fox has given Broken City the now-standard DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless surround treatment, which is more than capable of handling the film's fairly low-impact sound design. There are a few action-heavy scenes that are more energetic—a car crash, a fight or two or three—but the track is usually reserved and dialogue-driven. Most of the audio emerges from the front channels, but the rear speakers are called into play when needed, rendering some accurate-sounding environmental ambience—the jeers of a crowd outside the courthouse, clattering flatware in a restaurant, the tennis shoe squeaks and echoey thwacks inside a racquetball court—along with directional effects like cop car sirens. There's also a rather trippy audio sequence—with hazy, disembodied, overlapping voices—when Taggart begins drinking and goes on a night-long bender, getting into street fights and stumbling from bar to bar. Trent Reznor pal and David Fincher go-to guy Atticus Ross provides a thrumming electronic soundtrack to fill in the mix, but although it sounds good, it rarely gets the opportunity to really open up and roar. Dialogue, however, is always clear and easy to understand. The disc also includes Spanish and Italian dubs, along with English SDH, Spanish, and Italian subtitle tracks.
Broken City Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Broken City Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Between Drive and The Place Beyond the Pines and half a dozen indie others, neo-noir is definitely seeing a resurgence. Unfortunately, Broken City will probably be one of the least remembered of the recent bunch. It wants to be Chinatown but it's closer to The Two Jakes, if you follow me—dull, unoriginal, and less than the sum of its many cinematic influences. Mark Wahlberg's smooth tough-guy performance stands out, but only because the rest of the movie is so unmemorable, a tangled knot of cliche storylines we've seen done numerous times before in much better films. It's passably watchable if you're, I dunno, sick in bed or bored on a rainy Saturday afternoon, but if you're a fan of crime thrillers, Broken City is not something you should feel obligated to rush out and see. If you're still curious, at least know that 20th Century Fox's Blu-ray release is all-around solid, with strong audio and video quality and a few decent extras.
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• Broken City Blu-ray - March 8, 2013
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