Friday, January 18, 2013

Day 181: Broken City

"There are some wars that you fight, and some that you walk away from. This is the fighting kind."

On paper, the new crime "thriller" Broken City seems like a can't miss proposition. A pedigreed cast, a director who knows his way around a genre picture, and a release date in the doldrums of winter when films like this can thrive. The unfortunate reality of Broken City is that it's a half-baked idea with a script that feels like it was thrown together in a couple of hours. So what went wrong? Read on to find out...


Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is a disgraced ex-cop, floundering as a low-rent private investigator. His career took a left turn when he was fired by his police sergeant (Jeffrey Wright) for shooting a man who may have been unarmed. One man that purports to believe Taggart's story however is Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and offers Taggart a shot at redemption.

The mayor is convinced that his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with the campaign director of his opponent in the upcoming election. He calls on Taggart to get to the bottom of the affair, but Taggart is having problems at home with his actress wife (Natalie Martinez) and before you can say avalanche, the subplots, double crosses, betrayals, and absurd character reveals begin to pile up.


I've managed to distill the plot down to a few sentences, but it took me deleting several sentences of description of the various subplots. It's interesting how many thoroughly inconsequential diversions this film takes. There's a ridiculous scene involving Taggart getting drunk at the premiere of his wife's new independent movie, because he can't handle watching his wife have sex with someone else on screen, which is totally jettisoned the minute it ends, and has no further consequences on the plot. There's also a ton of flirtation between Taggart and his "girl Friday" Alona Tal that amounts to nothing more than another dead end.

The case could be made that scenes like these are more about character development than driving the plot, but they only end up seeming even more useless when they do nothing to develop Taggart's character. They only make his motivations more muddled. The film has no central identity from what I can tell, other than, everyone's either corrupt or corruptible, and the number of diversions away from this hint at a film that was either a few drafts away from being polished, or was pared down in editing to the point of retaining a handful of mundane details to make the world feel "fleshed-out." Either way, it's a mess.


Wahlberg is an actor I admire a lot, mainly because he has a preternatural ease on-screen. He's at home in comedy, drama, action, and he usually manages to rise above an otherwise weak film. He's dragged down to this film's depths however, and ends up getting buried in a sullen and uncharismatic role. Zeta-Jones is thoroughly wasted in a glorified cameo role, and even the usually reliable Jeffrey Wright is relegated to a one-note caricature. Only Barry Pepper, as Mayor Hostetler's opponent in the upcoming election seems to have any idea how preposterous the film around him is and manages to have some fun.

This brings me to Russell Crowe. In the late 90's and early 00's, Crowe was one of the most magnetic & dynamic screen actors alive. His performances in L.A. Confidential, The Insider, and Gladiator are outstanding and he even managed to give an excellent performance in the otherwise overrated A Beautiful Mind. In this film, as in his last role in Les Miserables, it almost seems as if he's making consciously awful acting choices. He looks like a half-baked Miami Vice villain in this film with his bad tan & awful haircut, it's just baffling to me that he's taken a left turn into crazy-town lately. I'm not sure if this is a phase he's going through, and I'm still holding out hope that his Jor-El in Man of Steel will be a rebound for him, but its pretty clear he's in a tailspin at the moment.


Allen Hughes made a lot of great films with his brother Albert from Menace II Society to American Pimp, but here he gives new meaning to the term striking out on his own. It doesn't help that the film's script by first time screenwriter Brian Tucker is awful, but this film's biggest problem is that it lacks focus. It starts off fairly interesting, but proceeds to bring nothing new to the table, and it's never a good sign when you can figure out the big "mystery" by the one-hour mark of a two-hour film. I'd love to tell you that Broken City is a decent time-waster, but it's not even that. There are much better films in wide release right now, and unless you've seen them all, don't waste your time or money.

GO Rating: 2/5
[Photos via BoxOfficeMojo]

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