Broken City Review


For a film that vacillates from scene to scene between barely passable and utterly forgettable, Broken City boasts some impressive names both on and off the screen. Mark Wahlberg leads a cast that also includes Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey Wright, and Kyle Chandler. Allen Hughes (of Menace II Socity and The Book of Eli fame) directs, and Atticus Ross has contributed to the film’s score. But the film never amounts to much. It’s a massive waste of time and talent—rudderless, purposeless, careless.

Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a former NYPD officer who, in the film’s prologue, finds himself at the center of controversy when he shoots a man and claims self-defense. New York’s mayor, Nicholas Hostetler (Crowe), gets Taggart off without asking questions. But seven years later, we meet both men days before Hostetler is up for re-election.

Taggart is now a private detective and gets hired by Hostetler to identify the mayor’s wife’s (Zeta-Jones) lover. It’s a straightforward enough case (almost too easy), and the perp is identified quickly and quietly. But the mayor’s campaign against a city councilman, Jack Valliant (Pepper), is so bitter and close that a connection between the race and Taggart’s work raises some major red flags. Soon, everyone’s true intentions become known, and decisions must be made that will affect the lives of everyone in New York City.

Hughes and first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker seem so focused on building the world in which their characters live that they forget about the characters themselves. Broken City‘s New York is oddly interesting. One could argue it’s rather generic, which isn’t necessarily untrue. You never really get the sense that this is New York City. It’s simply a downtrodden place where the old saying about absolute power corrupting absolutely rings particularly true. Whatever the case, there’s at least one compelling character on the screen in Broken City, and that’s the good old Big Apple.

Once you turn your attention toward trying to dissect the cardboard cutouts standing in for human beings in this film, things get a little dicier. Wahlberg’s worst tendencies are on full display here. He’s got so much energy when given the right part, but when tasked with playing a more brooding individual a la Billy Taggart, he becomes impossibly dull.

Crowe is a little better. His Mayor Hostetler oozes slimy charm, but Crowe never goes into full-on villain mode, leaving a little doubt as to the character’s true intentions. That said, he’s never able to totally overcome the inconsistencies of the script, which doesn’t give us any idea of what drives him. Tucker’s writing offers very little by way of three-dimensional and believably good or bad characters, but no one gets shit on the way he does Hostetler, who should be the film’s biggest acting and writing bright spot.

Catherine Zeta-Jones, as Mrs. Hostetler, isn’t dealt a much better hand. She pops up here and there looking dour and depressed. Oddly enough, the most interesting individual on screen is Alona Tal’s Katy Bradshaw, Taggart’s whip-smart and fiercely loyal assistant. Jeffrey Wright, as the city’s police commissioner whose loyalty is always changing, comes through this mess scot-free, as well.

Like a house of cards, Broken City becomes wobblier and wobblier as it ticks along. By the time a drunk Wahlberg is fighting with his girlfriend over a love scene in her first movie, a few cards fall. Around car chase time, an entire side of the structure is in shambles. And when we get to the inevitable big reveal, this film gets flattened. While it boasts a few acceptable qualities and decent enough moments, it’s frustratingly forgettable and even more frustratingly unfulfilling.

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