Title: Broken City
Are They Referring To A Specific City? Come on, you haven't figured this out by now? Stylish setting for exotic/glamorous crime = Los Angeles/Miami. Gritty tale of corruption and redemption = New York City. Or maybe Chicago.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: One-and-a-half Mayor McCheeses out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Powerful mayor hires former cop-turned-P.I. to follow his wife. Hilarity does not ensue.
Tagline: "Proof can be a powerful weapon."
Better Tagline: "Something the shortest distance between two points really is a straight line."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is dismissed from the NYPD following the sketchy shooting of a rapist who walked on a technicality. Nevertheless, Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) makes a point to commend him. Fast forward seven years, where Taggart -- now working as a private investigator -- gets hired by his old pal Hostetler. The case? Follow the Mayor's wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and find out who she's having an affair with, all while the Mayor's campaign against idealistic city councilman Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper) draws to a hotly contested finish.
"Critical" Analysis: Upon leaving the screening for Broken City, my first thought was, "Well, that was a novel approach."
There's a challenge to making a movie in a familiar genre, you see. Political thrillers date back to early Hitchcock, so the dilemma has always been in imparting some new tricks on the old dog. With Broken City, director Allen Hughes and screenwriter Brian Tucker are attempting what I guess you could call the boldest move yet: creating a thriller without any twists at all.
Every possible development is telegraphed before the first act ends. Will tensions between Hostetler and Police Commissioner Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) come to a head? Are Cathleen's secret meetings with opposing campaign manager Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler) more than meets the eye? Is there anything nefarious about Hostetler's brokering of a multi-billion dollar takeover of several blocks of housing projects?
Yes, yes, and yes. Broken City is one of those rare movies that tells you straightaway where the story is going and then refuses to deviate in any way. At no point during the film was there a shred of doubt in my mind about where things would end up. Admittedly, there were some minor character tweaks that may have raise an eyebrow or two, but this may have been the least intellectually challenging movie I've seen since That's My Boy.
And the funny thing is, Taggart is a potentially great character. The did-he-or-didn't-he nature of the shooting, the self-loathing at his current state that leads to tensions with his actress girlfriend (Natalie Martinez), the tenuous nature of his recovered alcoholism. In just about any other actor's hands, the disgraced ex-cop might have provided a high point.
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This leaves the bulk of the acting load to Crowe, who, before a string of weird personal incidents and phoned-in performances, earned acclaim as everyone from Bud White to John Nash. There's some of that old fire here, as his Hostetler effortlessly flips between glad-handing man of the people and ruthless politico. Pepper, mostly known for solid supporting roles (True Grit, Casino Jack), also contributes, making Valliant the most human character here. Wright doesn't offer much beyond a slow burn, while Griffin Dunne (as Hostetler's main money man) and Chandler barely register.
But Academy Award winning performances all around wouldn't save things showing the nefarious development company shredding documents to thwart investigation ... except for that big box of secret plans they accidentally left BY A DUMPSTER for Taggart to pick up, or a character going from blackout drunk to stone sober in 30 minutes, or the plucky platonic assistant, or a good guy named "Valliant."
Broken City is in theaters today. We broke this city on rock and roll.