Saturday, January 19, 2013

Broken City Review

Broken City is Allen Hughes’ first solo directorial effort; he and his brother last directed 2010’s fantastic The Book of Eli (one of my favorite films of that year).  Based solely upon the pedigree of Eli, Broken City had me incredibly excited.  Mix an all-star cast, fantastic director, and an intriguing story and you would expect great things.  Unfortunately, while two-thirds of that shone though, City ultimately falters under a mediocre script with predictable twists and turns that left me just a smidge unsatisfied.

Mark Wahlberg’s Billy Taggart is an NYPD detective who ultimately loses his badge over a shooting he was involved in; he shot and killed the man who raped and murdered his girlfriend’s (Natalie Martinez) sister.  Despite not enough evidence existing to push the case to a trial, Billy’s badge is taken by the mayor of New York, Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and the chief of police, Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright).  Seven years pass and Billy becomes a private detective with a perky assistant.  With one week left until the mayoral polls open, Billy receives a call from the mayor’s office; Hostetler wants Billy to find out who his wife, Cathleen (CatherineZeta-Jones) is sleeping with.

Broken City is far more politically-infused than I had anticipated; to call it a political thriller would be quite apt.  The problem is that while City can be quite thrilling at times, it can also be incredibly predictable.  And confusing.  From the opening moments, as we find out that there is a witness to Billy’s supposed murder, it is quite obvious that this evidence will come back by the end, and if you’ve seen the trailers for the film you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.  City just thinks that it’s smarter than it actually is; political and corporate mumbo-jumbo is thrown around and just adds to the confusion of the overall plot.  With a film like this, twists and turns are expected, but when they’re telegraphed in the manner in which City handles them, it become less of “woah I didn’t see that coming” to “yuuuup, saw that coming.”

Despite its predictability and over-complicated narrative, Broken City is still very enjoyable - due mainly in part to great performances and some interesting direction from Hughes.  The entire cast is simply exquisite, with Wahlberg, Zeta-Jones, Crowe, Barry Pepper (Hostetler’s mayoral opponent), and Kyle Chandler putting in fantastic work.  Hughes infuses the entire film with a certain energy that isn’t present just during more action-y bits; for the most part, usually boring expository conversations are brought up a level by Hughes’ camera.  During one scene in particular, the meeting between Hostetler and Billy about the adultery, the camera is constantly moving, cutting from angle to angle whilst circling the two men.  This simple motion spices up the already-tension-filled dialogue and makes it that much more interesting.
By the end of the film, conspiracies are exposed and sacrifices are made…and confusion is perpetrated.  Thankfully Billy is way smarter and I to be able to sift through the corporate double-speak and complicated political drivel.  Broken City tries to be much smarter than it actually is and ultimately fails at delivering an intriguing and surprising political thriller.  Not every film can be The Ides of March.  Regardless of its downfalls, City is enjoyable enough to warrant recommendation…that is if you haven’t seen the bevy of great films from 2012 still in theaters.
Broken City aims high and falls short of being a top-rate political thriller, but features some great performances.
The Bearded Bullet.

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