Broken City

Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe search for new agents after making "Broken City"

Tough guys Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe try, unsuccessfully, to escape to a better script in “Broken City”

“Broken City” would have been more accurately entitled “Broken Movie.”  For a neo-noir picture with a first rate cast to be this inept, contrived, unsuspenseful  and unconvincing is shameful and  nothing short of a missed opportunity.

Film noir is one of my favorite film genres.  It dates back to the 1940s and lasted into the 1950s.  Film noir movies are generally set in shadowy urban environments in which small time characters try to make big scores, but fate intervenes.  Corruption, moral compromises and femme fatales figure into the tales.

Upon my reading that “Broken City” was  a neo-noir, meaning a modern day movie with film noir elements, I thought it would be an interesting one to see.  Two examples of very good neo-noir films are “China Town” (1974) and “L.A. Confidential” (1997).  Instead, “Broken City” had me throwing  up my hands in frustration and disgust (not to mention boredom) and wanting to retreat to the safety of my film noir VHS and  DVD collections.  There  I would re-watch great noir movies, many of which I show in one of the college classes that I teach,   “Sociology of Cinema”:  “The Set-Up” (1949), “Detour” (1945), “Kansas City Confidential” (1952), “Night and the City” (1950), “Scarlet Street” (1945), “The Woman in the Window” (1944) and many others.  Cooler heads prevailed though and I am working out my issues with “Broken City” here in my critique.

“Broken City” is a tale of political corruption in New York City.  Mayor Hostetler  (Russell Crowe) is up for re-election.  He wants former city detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) to spy on his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), who, the mayor suspects, has been cheating on him.  The mayor wants to avoid an election scandal should his wife’s infidelity come to light.  The mayor and former detective share a past in which the mayor sat on evidence that could have convicted the detective of murder, in a shooting which, years before, culminated in a public outcry.  This could have been the set up for an interesting story of moral lapses, blackmail, the past influencing the present with the mayor’s wife taking on the role of femme fatale.  After all Zeta-Jones did a great job as the hard as nails, “stop at nothing,” wife of a drug lord in Steven Soderbergh’s movie “Traffic” (2000).  How  screenwriter Brian Tucker and director Allen Hughes could not have brought some of that strength to the Zeta-Jones character in “Broken City” is a mystery (perhaps one even more intriguing than that which they have attempted to put on screen here).

Instead we are left with a story where the  characters are unconvincing while their motivations are uncompelling.  Their dialogue is painfully and  blatantly expositional.  The characters seem to feel an obligation to constantly explain what is going on in the silly, convoluted overly obvious script in which they find themselves, and who could blame them?  I mean, they live a New York City in which commuters catch trains to Long Island from Grand Central Station.  In fact, at one point, Wahlberg has an ill advised line in which he says, “Doesn’t anyone speak in complete sentences anymore?”  When the dialogue is not that good to begin with, it is not a wise idea for the screenwriter  to have characters say things which point attention to the, uh, dialogue.  This line received an unintended, but knowing, laugh from the audience with which I saw “Broken City.”  However, my issues with “Broken City” go beyond characters and  dialogue and into plotting.

At a critical point in the film Taggart finds a damning piece of evidence by going through some garbage.  A moment later he peeps  through a window at the people who have thrown out this explosive piece of evidence.  They are in the midst of shredding papers to get rid of, well, evidence.  How considerate of them to have not shredded the key piece of evidence that our hero needs, and put it in a nice neat box for him to find in the garbage.

“Broken City” could have used a script re-write to bring the story up to par with its very good cast, which also includes Jeffrey Wright and Griffin Dunne.

Broken City, Director Allen Hughes, 2013,

Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation,  109 minutes, R


About unpaidfilmcritic

Up until 2009 Seth Shire spent nearly two decades in the New York film industry as a post production supervisor of feature films. Highlights include working on the films of Martin Scorsese, James Toback and Spike Lee. Since leaving the film industry Seth has expanded into new and varied areas where he has found a great deal of satisfaction. Seth currently teaches in the Sociology Department of CUNY Queens College. His courses include "Mass Media and Popular Culture," "Introduction to Sociology," and "Sociology of Cinema" where he is a very popular teacher. Seth is also the film critic for "Town & Village," a Manhattan weekly newspaper, a position he has held for the past six years. Seth gives back to his community through volunteer teaching at Manhattan's "The Caring Community," a center for senior citizens, where he teaches a very popular course on documentaries called "The Golden Age of the Documentary. In the fall of 2010 Seth taught "Critical Reading and Writing" at Parsons School of Design. He has also taught "Cinema Studies" at the New York Film Academy. Seth lives in Stuyvesant Town, in Manhattan.

Posted on January 25, 2013, in New and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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