Like the Al Pacino film City Hall, Broken City immerses us in the grubby world of New York politics. Unfortunately, this film also immerses us in a world of clichés, clunky dialogue, dull heroes and ridiculous villains.
Mark Wahlberg plays disgraced New York cop Billy Taggart who, years after a questionable shooting, is now a struggling, debt-laden private eye. When New York Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) recruits Taggart to spy on his wife (Catherine Zeta jones) who he thinks is having an affair, Billy finds himself embroiled in a deadly political and corporate conspiracy.
With its tangled web of lies and duplicitous characters, Broken City should have been an intriguingly complex story, instead it’s just confusing. The murky plot keeps shifting from one shadowy figure to another without clearly explaining their purpose or giving us much reason to care about them. Add to this the fact that Broken City is visually and aurally muddy and you have a film that’s very hard to get into.
This unconvincing story of corruption and redemption tries to put Wahlberg in the role of the troubled, cagey, hard drinking private eye that Humphrey Bogart immortalised in the film noir days. Wahlberg is no Bogart, though; he has neither the subtle wit nor the charisma and his character is closer to Sly Stallone’s Cobra than Phillip Marlowe. He does appear to have a genuine skill and liking for biffing people but it’s hard to tell with the camera wobbling about during action scenes. One fight scene is so shaky and confusing we might as well have been watching two elephant seals mating rather than two blokes fighting.
As the slimy Mayor, Russell Crowe is, at times, genuinely menacing but he undermines an intense performance with comic affectations that include a dodgy New York accent, a weird bronze spray tan and a rug that looks like the monster from 50’s schlock horror flick The Creeping Terror. Catherine Zeta Jones seems to be channelling Kathleen Turner from Body Heat in a slightly hammy performance as the Mayor’s wife.
To its credit, this film does feature some impressively intense exchanges between the leads and it provides a reasonably informed look at the political campaigning process. Too often, though, potentially powerful scenes are skittled by clichéd dialogue.
Hard core fans of grim New York-based TV shows like Law and Order may revel in the tough grimy environment and the morally ambiguous characters but most audiences are likely to be disappointed by the clumsy, confusing storyline.
Nick’s rating: Two and a half stars.
Director(s): Allen Hughes
Release date: 7th March 2013
Running time: 109 mins.
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