Quite frankly, Broken City is a broken movie. With a reasonably capable cast (Mark Wahlberg, Russel Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones), the film is one of those that gets lost along the way. Let’s face it. Hollywood these days is not what it was a few short years ago. Professionalism and dedication have flown the coop, replaced by bean counters and, unfortunately, directors who don’t know how to direct.
It’s not just the direction in Broken City, it’s the script, too. Let’s see if we can figure out who’s to blame for this mishmash of a film.
Billy Taggert (Wahlberg) is an ex-cop, kicked off the NYPD for the murder of an acquitted but supposedly guilty rapist/murderer. Taggert is certainly guilty but the Mayor of New York (Crowe), keeps the evidence that will convict him hidden for use later on. The Police Commissioner, played by Carl Fairbanks, seems to be in on all of this and accepts Taggert’s dismissal in lieu of charging him with the murder.
Fast forward seven years. Taggert is working as a private dick, Mayor Hostetler is in the midst of a re-election campaign and his wife (Zeta-Jones) seems to be having an affair with someone. Hostetler hires Taggert to find out who she’s sleeping with. End of the plot to this point. Watch the film and the rest of the story works out as expected.
The action, the acting, the direction is all fine, no arguments there. Crowe’s New York/Boston-ish accent is merely OK, however. Couldn’t they have hired an American for this part? Is Crowe’s name a big draw in theatres these days? Wahlberg is Wahlberg and Zeta-Jones has a few moments of intensity that are not bad. The script is the weak point, though.
Taggert’s girlfriend Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez) is an actress. She sticks with Billy through thick and thin and their relationship is developed as a sideline to the main plot. Maybe it was originally meant to actually go somewhere but the director, Alan Hughes, leaves us hanging after a messy bar scene where a drunk Taggert accosts Barrow over her scandalous role in an Indie film. We never see her again after that. The isolated scene where Taggert goes back to their now-empty apartment is the only mention of the relationship past that point.
Taggert’s loyal and gorgeous assistant, Katy played by Alona Tal, is the subject of many lingering shots but her role is definitely secondary until the end. Inexplicably, Katy figures prominently in the final scene as if, unbeknownst to the audience, she has suddenly replaced Natalie in Taggert’s life. She promises to be there when he gets back, assuming he ever does get back from prison and that he is even convicted of his crime.
The main source of intrigue, an apartment complex that is being sold out from under its residents, is the MacGuffin here. It’s the same old story of the simple detective getting involved in something much bigger than he initially thinks it is. We’ve seen it before and we’ll see it again, hopefully in the hands of a better director and/or script writer. The problem with Broken City may lie on the cutting room floor. As 109 minutes, the story is plenty long enough and certainly could have been shorter without the aimless and unnecessary Billy/Natalie sub-story. It doesn’t go anywhere anyway so why not leave it out? (Maybe because Martinez is drop-dead sexy in the scene where she’s getting pumped from behind by the director of the Indie film.)
Broken City is not a complete waste of time, don’t get me wrong. The film is broken, for sure, but could be saved by a few cuts here and there. Take out the stuff that doesn’t go anywhere or enhance the story, develop the Katy/Billy relationship a bit more and you’d have a decent action piece. As it is, it’s almost dead in the water but still worth watching, as long as you don’t expect too much. Whatever you do, don’t spend money on it. It’s OK to waste a bit of time with but not to spend a penny on.