Broken City
No Surprises in this City

On paper, the new crime thriller Broken City has all the elements of a classic film noir: a hero with a past is brought by a powerful, corrupt figure into a conspiracy that involves a dangerous femme fatale.  Unfortunately, to paraphrase a popular sports idiom: that’s why they make the movies.  Okay, so it doesn’t directly translate to the world of cinema, but you get the point.  The elements of a great story are there, but the execution is lacking.

Broken City stars Mark Wahlberg as Billy Taggart, a New York Police detective who found himself in hot water when he shot a recently exonerated rapist.  Taggart was cleared of all charges, but it was recommended by city mayor Nicholas Hostetler that he turn in his badge.  Seven years later, Taggart is just getting by as a private detective when the mayor calls him into his office with a job offer.  A week before an election, the mayor believes that his wife is having an affair and he enlists Billy’s help in exchange for fifty thousand dollars.  Hard up for cash, Taggart takes the job and snaps photos of the mayor’s wife with a man who soon thereafter shows up dead.

Mark Wahlberg as Taggart in Broken CityAfter initially trying to convince others and himself that all he did was take pictures and hand them over, the guilt soon gets the better of Taggart.  He investigates further and finds himself getting involved in a plot of big city corruption that starts right at the top.  He could expose the corruption, but that would mean dealing with his past which is not quite as far behind him as he thought.

The main problem with Broken City is its complete lack of any surprises.  The plot goes by exactly as you would expect it to and none of the so-called character or plot revelations are anything other than exactly what you expected.  In fact, in a way, the movie fools us into over-thinking about it.  Throughout the  film I was constantly attempting to weave intricate plot ties between characters who I thought might be more involved than they seem, but in the end, the bad guys were exactly who I thought the bad guys would be right from the start.

A predictable plot is not necessarily the nail in a movie’s coffin, especially if the filmmakers can infuse the movie with a level of slickness and style to sort of mask the flaws of the plot.  Last week’s Gangster Squad, for example, did just that.  Unfortunately, there is an amazing lack of style in Broken City.  This is odd considering the movie was directed by Allen Hughes, who, along with his brother Albert, gave us such style-rich movies a From Hell and The Book of Eli.  There’s little effort in this film, though, with the only memorable instance of style being an overshot dialogue scene that’s more annoying and dizzying than slick and cool.

The actors seem to be phoning it in as well.  In fact, there’s better acting in the brief movie-within-a-movie starring Taggart’s girlfriend who promptly disappears from the movie altogether.  Wahlberg seems to be simply going through the motions while Russell Crowe seems so disinterested that he doesn’t even really speak up. Meanwhile, Catherine Zeta-Jones isn’t in the movie enough to either impress or disappoint with her acting.

While watching Broken City, I felt like I was engaged in and intrigued by the plot, but in hindsight I realize that that was simply because I was rewriting the movie in my head as it went along.  Looking back, I definitely prefer the movie as it was playing out in my head.  At least in that movie there were twists and surprises.

Broken City is rated R for “pervasive language some sexual content and violence.”  It’s not the most violent movie in the world, but add the dark tone to the violence and you definitely get a movie worthy of an R rating.

Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of Broken City.