Mark Wahlberg as Billy Taggart
Russell Crowe as Mayor Hostetler
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Cathleen Hostetler
Jeffrey Wright as Carl Fairbanks
Barry Pepper as Jack Valliant
Alona Tal as Katy Bradshaw
Natalie Martinez as Natalie Barrow
Michael Beach as Tony Jansen
Kyle Chandler as Paul Andrews
James Ransone as Todd Lancaster
Griffin Dunne as Sam Lancaster
Britney Theriot as Valerie
Luis Tolentino as Mikey Tavarez
Tony Bentley as Judge
Andrea Frankle as Prosecutor
Directed by Allen Hughes
New York City detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) takes the law into his own hands when he shoots an exonerated rapist. He’s kicked off the force but spared a jail sentence by the city’s mayor, Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe), who feels he can one day call upon Taggart for his own means. Seven years later, Billy is working as a private investigator and having trouble making money when the mayor calls in his marker, hiring Billy to investigate his wife’s indiscretions. Billy starts following the wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) but soon learns there’s more to the mayor’s assignment which may involve the upcoming mayoral election against his opponent Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper).
The New York City political system can be complex and exciting at times and not something that one should take lightly enough to try to condense into a two-hour Hollywood crime-thriller. Because of this, you have to give Mark Wahlberg and director Allen Hughes, one half of the famed Hughes Brothers, some credit for having the cajones to take on such a topic and use it for the basis of one of the blandest noir thrillers we’ve seen.
The film opens on Wahlberg’s police detective Billy Taggart, just after he’s shot and killed a suspect. There’s more to the story and against the police chief’s advice, the mayor gets Billy off the hook. No longer on the force, Billy is a broken man, but he gives up drinking and starts his own private eye business. It’s not going well so when the mayor calls him up and hires him to follow his wife, Billy jumps at the chance, not realizing he’s being used as a pawn.
Going into “Broken City,” it’s fairly obvious the filmmakers are going for a modern-day noir crime-thriller with many of the common elements – the lead being a private detective and there being a corrupt person in power who hires him to look into something. Knowing these tropes makes it harder to take it seriously, because when Russell Crowe first shows up in the first few minutes as the mayor, you know you’re in trouble, partially due to this awkward attempt at a New York accent, but also because his performance is a caricature that announces “I’m the bad guy!” That performance never really improves and Barry Pepper isn’t much better as his competition, another cookie-cutter political type that we see on the campaign trail against the incumbent. Catherine Zeta-Jones also seems to be in auto-pilot when it comes to portraying the mayor’s wife, maybe because this is a role she could literally do in her sleep so she does.
To his credit, Mark Wahlberg gets off the easiest, maybe since we’ve seen him play far worse roles in worse movies. But we’ve also seen better and there isn’t enough weight to Billy Taggart to differentiate him from other stereotypes, so they try to give him depth by giving him a live-in girlfriend, played by Natalie Martinez, who happens to be an actress. Oh and did we mention that she’s the older sister of the raped teenager who Billy was avenging as the film opened and that she lives with her family in the Bolton Village projects that later becomes a key part to the story? Those are the types of characterizations added to try to give more weight to his character, and then they try to create drama by having the teetotalling Billy attend his girlfriend’s premiere and start drinking again after watching her in a passionate love scene with her co-star.
One assumes Billy falling off the wagon might play a big part in his character arc, but just as this is happening, Billy gets a call that the man he’s seen with the mayor’s wife has turned up dead. Within minutes, he has completely sobered up and we’re back into the main story as his issues with his girlfriend are never resolved. She also never returns to the movie, proving how unnecessary any of that was to the story. This is also the point where Jeffrey Wright returns after an hour-long absence, having been promoted from Chief of Police to Commissioner. He gets Billy up to speed on what’s really happening, although it’s never quite clear how he’s involved in any of it. Basically, the more we learn about what the mayor is doing, the less it makes sense and the less interesting the movie gets.
Other than the interactions between Billy and his young office assistant (Britney Theriot), which offers some much-needed lightness, the rest of the film is fairly bland with some of the dialogue feeling forced, particularly in the romantic moments between Wahlberg and Martinez.
Those problems aside, Hughes does a fine job tackling the material with a stylish approach that helps the film avoid feeling as derivative as it could have been, helped greatly by an electronic score by Atticus Ross (of “The Social Network” fame). Hughes does make a few decisions that detract like having cameras circling around the characters during dialogue scenes. God bless his soul wherever he is, but Tony Scott had this affinity for doing that in his movie and it was just as distracting.
Somewhere in “Broken City,” there’s a plot that could have been interesting enough to maintain an entire film, but it’s filtered and diluted through a mess of ideas and so much unnecessary crap used to create layers that don’t necessarily coexist in the same movie. As many ridiculous ideas there are in the movie, none are worse than the idea that the Mayor of New York City could be as corrupt as Crowe’s character, something that becomes so outrageous by the end, it’s fairly insulting. As a New Yorker, it’s hard to believe anyone involved with the movie really did the research necessary to even try to make this premise feel authentic.
The Bottom Line:
“Broken City” had the potential to be a decent suspense thriller, but its premise fails to pull the viewer in, partially because it goes off on too many tangents from the main story and the few twists are so obvious you immediately can figure out where it’s heading. Maybe if it felt that anyone other than Wahlberg and Hughes were giving their best effort, it might be forgivable.