Who’s in it? Mark Wahlberg (Billy Taggart), Russell Crowe (NYC Mayor Hostetler), Catherine Zeta-Jones (Cathleen Hostetler, the mayor’s wife), Jeffrey Wright (Carl Fairbanks police commissioner), Barry Pepper (Jack Valliant, the mayor’s political rival), Kyle Chandler (Paul Andrews, Valliant’s campaign manager)
What’s it about? New York mayor Nicholas Hostetler helps police officer Billy Taggart avoid jail time after he’s involved in a suspicious shooting. Taggart must still turn in his badge, however, and goes on to become a private investigator. Seven years later, Hostetler calls upon Taggart to investigate his wife and find out who she’s having an affair with. The mayor’s running a tight race against the squeaky-clean Jack Valliant (yes, that’s really his name) and is worried that a personal scandal could derail his shot at re-election.
What’s good? Let’s face it: this isn’t exactly the time of year that Oscar-caliber movies hit theaters … because that period just wrapped up at the end of December. Rather, these next few months are what we’ve fondly referred to as The Wasteland in prior years here on Redblog. All this is to say that my expectations adjust accordingly when I watch a January or February release. And I say that because while Broken City is by no means a great film, it did keep me entertained and its relatively short running time (around 1 hour 45 minutes) passed quickly. The entire cast (minus Zeta-Jones) is strong, but Russell Crowe in particular — while looking alarmingly Snooki-fied (read: orange) — really embraced the whole Dirty Mayor bit. TRUTH: I’d rather watch him ham it up in Broken City than cringe through one of his Les Miz songs any day. Another highlight was the sarcastic banter between Taggart and his assistant Katy (played by newcomer Alona Tal, who I kept thinking MUST be Anna Kendrick’s sister, but she’s not). In fact, when the film didn’t take itself so seriously is when I enjoyed it the most. From the scenes with Katy to a completely ridiculous (in a hilarious way) drinking binge sequence (I won’t say which character is involved) that comes out of nowhere, there were quite a few opportunities to laugh during what was otherwise a Hey, This is Serious! political thriller.
What could’ve been better? As I’ve already hinted at, Broken City‘s weakness is that it’s trying too hard. While this is director Allen Hughes’ first solo effort (he usually teams up with his twin brother Albert; they directed Menace II Society and The Book of Eli), it’s really screenwriter Brian Tucker’s script that’s the issue. It’s like he wanted to fit as many twists into the plot as possible … which I guess would’ve been cool if the subsequent reveals made your jaw drop. Instead, the “gotcha” moments fell flat and were anticlimactic to say the least. I also found Catherine Zeta-Jones’ character to be unintentionally funny. She went a little overboard in her attempt to be mysterious, and as a result her character never seemed like a real person to me. Notice that I haven’t said anything about the lead, Mark Wahlberg. That’s because to me he was just being the typical Mark Wahlberg character in this movie: tough guy, not the smartest, hot girlfriend, seems like he tries to do the right thing most of the time, you know the drill.
The bottom line: Broken City might surprise you with perhaps one of its 100 twists, but the real reason to see it is to help erase Russell Crowe’s Javert from your memory. No, really though, I had fun watching Broken City overall. It doesn’t break any new ground for its genre and it doesn’t meet the high expectations it sets up for a WHOA—WHAT? finale, but its superb cast helps to overcome its other flaws.
Redbox movies featuring the cast of Broken City: