The streets of New York have always been a mean place, and in the film “Broken City” the latest release from Alan Hughes, you will not be surprised to learn what was always true is still true. The drama opens with a cop (Mark Wahlberg) in a courtroom, and what do you know …he’s done something bad, like shooting someone, and might be headed up river. Like all tough cops who wind up in trouble, Billy Taggart did the wrong thing for the right reason. But he has a couple friends, including the somewhat slimy mayor of the city Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and the equally dubious and even harder to read police chief, Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright).
Billy’s friends want to help as much as they can, so they bury some evidence and he leaves court a free man, but as a consequence loses his place on the force. Billy should take note of the fact that nothing is free, especially friendship. The thought is also expressed in what turns out to be one of the movies better lines when the mayor asks what the crowd of protesters outside the courthouse want. The police chief replies ‘..justice I guess.” The mayor then remarks, “…well no one gets that”
Flash forward seven years, and we find that Billy is trying to make a living as a private eye. He spends his days taking pictures of adulterous spouses and trying to strong arm delinquent clients into paying their tabs. Then Billy gets an unexpected call from City Hall, it seems the mayor needs a bit of marriage help so he hires Billy for fifty grand to follow his wife Cathleen (Katherine Zeta Jones) and get evidence that she’s stepping out. Billy gets the snapshots, and the story should be finished, but things just keep getting murkier.
Turns out the mayor’s wife has been sneaking out to see the campaign manager of her husband’s opponent in a close and brutal election. There are shady deals all around, and Eddie has to sew up the whole business by finding out the real truth about who’s doing what with whom and why, so that he can save the old neighborhood where he was once the local good cop.
So, you have a good cop with a heart of cold who’s been brought down by some big fishes and his own weakness for double shots of scotch. A tough, corrupt mayor making things “better” for his city while engineering dirty deals on the side to make himself rich, and a standard list of supporting characters. If this all has a familiar ring to it, it’s because Broken City is a place we’ve been to many times before.
Alan Hughes takes a while setting up a story that doesn’t have any real twists but does manage to lead us into a few dead ends. Billy’s girlfriend is the surviving sister of a rape/murder victim who’s killer Billy went to court for shooting in the opening scenes. They have a seven year relationship that seems fine, but at one point in the story, he gets drunk and jealous, and we find out that all they ever really has in common was her dead sister, hmm that’s news to us in the audience. Hughes could have either explained the dead sister as motivation more quickly with some dialog, or given more scenes where the couple interacted with one another to help explain the eventual break-up.
In another non-Sherlock Holmes like plot point toward the end of the film, Billy seems to have completely forgotten that years earlier Mayor Nick hid that evidence and so pretty much has our beloved cop hero by his brass…badge. Maybe we are supposed to attribute this to the many years Billy spent swilling hootch.
Mark Wahlberg does an adequate job in his role, but we’ve seen him play this character a number of times before, including in Four Brothers. Russell Crowe and Jeffrey Wright have some good scenes as rivals, but Wright in particular could have benefited from more screen time. Catherine Zeta Jones turns in a credible performance as the mayor’s wife. Of all the characters hers was the one with the most depth, that did not feel like it was an updated version of a 30’s pulp detective story character. So she ended up not being used to her full potential either.
While the script of too often relies on cliche, the sound track does not. It is the collaboration of Atticus Ross, Claudia Sarne and Leo Ross. The Brit Atticus Ross is most well-known for composing the music for the 2010 film The Social Network along with Trent Reznor which won the Oscar for Best Original Score that year. There are two songs featured in the first two trailers of Broken City, these are Power by Kanye West and Flower by Moby.
The camera work and lighting are top of the class. While the movie is set in NYC, and some of production did occur there, the core of the filming happened in New Orleans. The Big Easy does a pretty reputable job subbing for the Large Apple, while in the theater we thought we identified a couple of NYC locations but did not notice anything Louisiana specific until it was mentioned in the credits.
Broken City has an “A” List cast who got hamstrung by some pretty cliched dialog and plot structure that doesn’t quite make sense. If you can accept what Broken City serves up, and don’t want to get all NCIS procedural on it, or if you like specific cast members. Then it’s a solid matinee quality movie that could have been a lot better if it had broken some new ground or put a different spin on the same old Big Apple cop story.
Broken City (1hr 49min – Rated R) opens in theaters nationwide today, January 18.