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‘Broken City’ has promising setup but then cracks

Friday, January 18th, 2013. Filed under: Movies

Broken City sucked me in pretty hard when I started watching it, as I thought to myself this movie has everything. It has a great cast steeped in political intrigue, and embroiled in a good old-fashioned tale about sex and power in the country’s largest city (NYC). Unfortunately the setup was much greater than the payoff. By the end of the movie I was fairly sure I had just witnessed a potentially great movie turned into a mediocre one–a movie that didn’t even make a ton of sense.

Mark Wahlberg stars as Billy Taggart, a character name perhaps devised by lazily combining the two names of Eddie Murphy’s Beverly Hills police friends from Beverly Hills Cop. Billy starts the movie by killing a guy in a poorer section of the city, a guy who allegedly walked from a horrible crime. The city is torn–some call it murder, some call it justice, but in any case Billy gets off clean. He is then introduced to the mayor of New York, Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), who tells Billy he’s a hero, but also tells him he can no longer be a cop.

The movie then picks up seven years later, with Billy heading up his own private detective business and struggling to pay his bills. Mayor Hostetler calls him up, and offers him $50K to take pictures of his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) who he says is having an affair. The trail leads Billy to Hostetler’s rival in an upcoming election, Jack Valliant (played by Barry Pepper, but seriously, who came up with these names?), and his campaign manager Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler). Billy also has run-ins with several old police colleagues, such as Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright).

Broken City does a fairly good job setting up what I thought could be a pretty good political thriller with a lot of mystery involved. When you don’t know the players’ true motivations it leaves the audience with a healthy bit of eager anticipation for what is to come next. But the movie can’t take advantage of the sense of anticipation it creates, and it then lazily reveals a typical real estate scam scheme perpetuated by Mayor Hostetler. The scam involves tearing down a poor neighborhood (the one where Billy shot his guy) and surreptitiously using a company the Mayor has major financial interest in to rebuild it, with yuppie condos or something.

Maybe I’m wrong, but that doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing one could keep secret forever anyway. Anyway, it seems kind of a lazy plot line, and there’s hardly any mystery involved as the filmmakers reveal it to us. Wahlberg’s character observes company guys in suits shred documents and then laughably take out the trash to a small dumpster out back, which Billy of course goes through and finds important information. Yeah, that’s how those companies work. At least have Billy dress up as a janitor like Charlie Sheen in Wall Street or something before he gets shot at, guys.

Other plot lines are just as lazy. Wahlberg’s character Billy has a girlfriend (Natalie Martinez), who is the sister of a girl that was killed by the guy Billy shoots at the start of the movie. They seem to be doing pretty well until the film’s writer has them break up at a party after Billy’s girlfriend sees him start drinking again. Her rationale? She’s been dating him (the last seven years) for the wrong reason (he avenged his sister’s murder). Hey that’s fine, but give us some build up with that. Make us seem everything isn’t great between them in the scenes prior.

Broken City was written by a newcomer, Brian Tucker, and it shows. In the movie it is revealed Billy could go to trial again for the shooting shown at the start of the movie. Well, Brian, there’s this thing called the Fifth Amendment and “Double Jeopardy” that we have here that would likely prevent that despite new evidence. Never mind, just try and do better next time.

I think I’ve made my points. As irritating as these flaws are, the movie still garners an average rating. The performances are generally very good, and Crowe and Pepper stand out especially as opposing candidates for mayor. Director Allen Hughes (Dead Presidents, From Hell) does a good job with a bunch of scenes, especially those involving Crowe, Zeta-Jones and Wahlberg (also a great pre-debate scene with Chandler and Pepper). He also does a good job building the tension gradually somewhat throughout the first half of the movie, where we’re not sure where people’s true allegiances lie.

Trouble is, when we do discover where everyone stands we just don’t care anymore.

Broken City is rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence. It runs 109 minutes.

PM&S’ VERDICT–Worth the six dollars I paid, if we’re talking ten we might be at a deal-breaker.

WHAT THE OTHERS ARE SAYING–”…less watchable than ‘A Haunted House’.”

San Francisco Chronicle–”…these characters never feel like real people…”

Chicago Tribune–”likely to appeal to those who enjoyed the more elegantly plotted machinations of ‘Arbitrage’,”






Chris Jollay

Chris Jollay founded because he likes politics, movies, and sports. He lives in the Washington DC area and races basset hounds in his spare time.


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