Film Review – Broken City
Somewhere in its heart, Broken City really wants to be a good movie—and not just any good movie, but a Sidney Lumet good movie. If this movie had just one thing to say, it would be that corruption is everywhere, from the mayor on down. Every character on display here is corrupt in some fashion. Whether it be racketeering, cheating on a loved one, cold-blooded murder/revenge, or even accepting collect calls, no one is clean. Which is why we need a story; we need a conflict amongst the corruption that will threaten to shake things out. That’s where our hero Mark Wahlberg comes in.
Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart—wait a minute. Why does that name sound familiar?
Oh, that’s because Billy Taggart is also this kid in the screenshot below. That’s a scene from Jeepers Creepers 2, where poor Billy Taggart gets dragged through a cornfield by the title monster of the film. While the Billy Taggart in this film doesn’t get physically dragged through a cornfield by the Creeper, he is morally dragged through a cornfield of his own growing. Billy is basically a good guy who has little-to-no moral compass and therefore just agrees to do or does bad things, because he simply can’t think for himself. This attitude gets Billy in trouble and sends him down a path to where the central story of the film begins. Now an ex-cop-turned-private-investigator, Billy is on the skids, having to take jobs catching spouses cheating on each other, when he gets a call from the Mayor (Russell Crowe)—who has no first name, just Mayor Hostetler—for a meeting. The Mayor hires Billy to spy on his wife, who does have a first name, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), because he wants to know who she’s cheating on him with.
The rest of the story is an unraveling of how everyone from the Mayor, to Billy, to the Police Chief, to Billy’s girlfriend, to some rich guy named Sam Lancaster (Griffin Dunne) are all corrupt in some way. It’s up to Billy to navigate his way through the corruption, including his own, to finally figure out how to think for himself and do the right thing. It’s sort of like Cop Land, except Billy isn’t a simpleton with damaged hearing…well, it is Marky Mark… None of that really matters, though, because the story doesn’t really add up to anything. It’s so convoluted with corruption on top of corruption, out corrupting other corruption, that you don’t even care who’s corrupt or not corrupt.
To its credit, the movie does have some clever aspects to it, like the way it opens after an incident has occurred and doesn’t tell the audience what happened directly for the first three-quarters. But that’s also where it fails in the same breath; while it gives the necessary details for the audience to figure out what occurred, it turns around and directly spells it out at what’s supposed to be a crucial moment where the tables get turned on our dunce of a main character. This works against the fact that the movie has tried meticulously hard to give fragmented details of the plot and characters that leave the audience to draw the connections themselves. Its approach is very much what writer/director Michael Mann has done with some of his films, especially his last two, Miami Vice and Public Enemies.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is plagued by a bad script and some questionable direction, by, respectively, Brian Tucker and Allen Hughes—Hughes being one half of the Hughes Brothers equation, whose films are plagued with questionable direction. At times, the dialogue is something to cringe at, with eye-rolling capacity in the same gesture, even with the likes of Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Jeffrey Wright. What is perhaps most unforgivable, though, is sequences like where we see Billy find a box of documents that are supposed to be highly sensitive, amongst the garbage where other highly sensitive documents have been shredded and thrown away. We even get a shot of Billy watching the bad guys shred documents and are still supposed to believe that they somehow missed this one, maybe most crucial, box.
When the corruptive dust settles, we can see Broken City is a movie that takes some good ideas, ones that you might find in a Sidney Lumet film, like Prince of the City, or Serpico, and runs them through a grinder that churns out a whole lot of bad decisions and ultimately comes up with a half-assed exercise that probably would’ve been better left undone.
Final Grade: D-