Film Review: Broken City

daniel cohen is reviews the annual Mark Wahlberg winter crime drama…

Broken-City-2013-Movie-Poster

Plot: When the Mayor (Russell Crowe) of New York asks disgraced cop turned private investigator Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) to catch his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) in the act of cheating, Taggart realizes he’s involved in a much bigger conspiracy centered around the New York City Mayoral election.

Corruption, ugly politics, multi-billion dollar real estate deals, and all sorts of shenanigans are at the center of Broken City, the latest from director Allen Hughes of Book of Eli and Menace II Society fame. And while Broken City isn’t the most ground-breaking movie in the world, it moves a good pace, has a nice little mystery, and gives us a really good performance from Russell Crowe as Mayor Nicholas Hostetler.

It doesn’t take long to realize that Hostetler isn’t the most honest politician in the world, and part of the intrigue is watching this slowly develop throughout the film. What’s great about Crowe’s performance is that no matter how sleazy his next move may seem, his charisma still makes you want to like him. In probably the best scene of the movie, Crowe debates his opponent, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), and even though you’re supposed to be against Hostetler at this point, you can’t help but love him after the number he pulls on Valliant. There’s a brilliant moment of dialogue where Wahlberg’s character, Billy Taggart, calls him out on his corruption, and Hostetler basically says ‘everything I do is for the good of the city,’ and despite some of the bad things he’s done, you truly believe him.

Speaking of Mark Wahlberg, it’s funny how you end up liking the antagonist more than the protagonist. Wahlberg plays ex-cop Billy Taggart, who was cleared on charges of killing a suspected rapist, but his badge is still taken away, and he’s basically on a redemption arc in the film. But Taggart’s character was a little too unlikable for me, and part of this is in Wahlberg’s acting. I can forgive it to some extent because that’s the point of the character, but even if your protagonist is supposed to be repulsive, you have to like him a little bit, and Wahlberg loses that at times.

Wahlberg for the most part is fine, but the actors around him are doing a much better job. The scenes with him and Russell Crowe in particular are riveting and well-written, but if this was with someone like Leonardo DiCaprio, they could have been much better. Walhberg does step up his acting in scenes with Jeffrey Wright, who plays police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks, and who’s sort of like the audience, as he detests Taggart in the first scene, and throughout the movie, Taggart is desperate in trying to win him over.

Along wtih Jeffrey Wright, the film is full of solid supporting roles. Catherine Zeta-Jones is great as Hostetler’s wife, who just absolutely loathes him. Seriously, she hates her husband more than Mr. Wilson hates Dennis the Menace. Every line of dialogue from her is basically a scathing comment at the expense of the Mayor. There is a great pay-off to this at the end where she probably has my favorite line of the film. I also enjoyed Kyle Chandler as Valliant’s campaign manager, Paul Andrews. Chandler is becoming the new Bryan Cranston, showing up in every single movie ever made.

While nothing about this movie is amazing, it’s pretty solid all the way through, but there a few things here and there that ticked me off. They give Taggart an young assistant, Katy (Alona Tal). While Tal does a good job, there’s this very flirty banter between the two that was okay at first, but it gets old fast.

One of the biggest holes in the story is the sub-plot involving Taggart’s actress girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez). In the middle of the film, they have the inevitable blow-up, and while this storyline is technically resolved, it really isn’t, and is pretty sloppy as it’s just completely forgotten about at the end.

Some of the camera work in this film is also pretty shotty – sometimes it’s tight, and sometimes they do this weird merry-go-round style thing where the camera basically moves in a circle, but it doesn’t really work.

Those are really the only complaints I have about Broken City. If you like Chinatown, think of this as a C-level version of that…that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s pretty tight, I was never bored, and it had plenty of dynamic secondary characters to distract me from Wahlberg’s ‘meh’ performance. The only thing I have to gripe about is, once again – the trailer giving away too much! And maybe I’m looking into trailers more than I should be, but there’s a shoe that’s waiting to be dropped that you see in the trailer, and it almost ruins the last scene between Walhberg and Crowe…stupid trailers.

Rating: 7 out of 10 (Good)

Daniel Cohen is the hard-boiled Film Editor for the Pop Break. Besides reviews, Daniel writes box office predictions, Gotham reviews and Oscar coverage. He can also be found on the Breakcast. If Daniel was sprayed by Scarecrow's fear toxin, it would be watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen on a non-stop loop.