Even Wahlberg and Crowe can’t fix Broken CityJanuary 18, 2013
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Alona Tal, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey Wright, Natalie Martinez
Director: Allen Hughes
Rating:R, for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence
Running time: 109 minutes
By Lisa Kennedy in The Denver Post
This time of year, it’s often a bit aggravating to watch how the movie industry snubs us so-called ”fly-over” states. They send their Oscar contenders into our multiplexes and arthouses after Jan. 1, after the conversation about what’s best has been underway on the coasts since mid-December.
But movies like the new crime thriller Broken City — starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe — have me rethinking that frustration. Thank goodness there are films of heft and heart only now making it onto local screens.
It is not that Broken City — boasting a cast worth big expectations — is bad, exactly. But it is deeply mediocre. When they say television dramas are getting the better of the movies, this is the sort of middling outing that proves it. Set in a New York City clearly bereft of Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s patrician touch, Broken City begins with police detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), standing on a dark street in a low-income housing complex. At his feet, a dead man lies with a bullet hole in the middle of his forehead. Did Taggart shoot the suspect, a rapist and murderer, in cold blood? The crowds gathered outside city hall shout yes. The court finds otherwise. Still, after a meeting with Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) and the chief of police (Jeffrey Wright), he’s forced out.
Seven years later, he’s got his own detective agency in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge, complete with his own smart-talking Girl Friday named Katy (Alona Tal). And Mayor Hostetler is once again summoning him to his office, this time to hire him to find out whom his wife is trysting with. Kyle Chandler portrays the man she meets with. There’s a certain haughtiness to the lovely Catherine Zeta-Jones that makes her a fine choice for the role of savvy political wife. But Broken City is not about amour or carnal desire. The name pretty much says it. Broken City is about a municipality hobbled by the love of power and money. The sale of a massive housing project figures prominently.
Sadly, Brian Tucker’s script doesn’t handle this with sufficient finesse. The movie’s revelations neither tweak our understanding of backroom alliances nor satisfy our appreciation of the neo-noir genre the movie partakes in.Crowe’s mayor is a throwback with an accent that doesn’t quite ring true. He’s more a gloss on Chicago’s one-time boss Richard J. Daley than New York’s Ed Koch or even law-and-order guy Rudy Giuliani. Hosteler is steely, smarmy but seldom nuanced. The way Crowe plays him, it’s hard to imagine him getting elected once. Yet, most of the action is set as he’s days away from either winning a third term or losing to councilman Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper).
There are signs throughout the movie that people tried to fix what ails Broken City. Director Allen Hughes, who made his mark by tag-teaming movies with twin brother Albert Hughes, choreographs an early sequence with Taggart making calls to collect on past due accounts that has great promise. And Wahlberg nicely improvises banter with girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez), an aspiring actress about to celebrate her first starring role in an indie picture. Written by newcomer Tucker, Broken City serves as a reminder that sometimes a crime thriller is too intricate for its own good. Despite flashes of occasional levity and hints at more complex ambitions, Broken City is more boilerplate than hardboiled.