02 March 2013

If It Ain't Broke...

The trouble with including specific dates in a movie, particularly if the date falls between filming and the release date, is that you can get caught out by any significant events that may transpire in real life. In Allen Hughes' new film Broken City, for instance, dodgy deals and a general state of corruption would be the least of New York City Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe)'s worries in the final days of his re-election campaign, because the film is set in the last week of October 2012, while New York was  being battered by Superstorm Sandy. It is lucky, then, that I am not one of those people who seem to think that movies have to be 100% factually accurate at all times—a pretty contradictory notion.

A corrupt bargain? Russell Crowe, Jeffrey Wright and Mark Wahlberg in Broken City. Image.

The titular broken city is certainly more similar to Gotham than real-life New York—so we hope, at any rate. At the start of the film, we see Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) in court, accused of the murder of a man he shot while on duty as a cop. He believed the man in question was responsible for the rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl, although the man was cleared of the charges. He is freed by the judge, but Mayor Hostetler and police chief Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) reveal that they have evidence that could bring Taggart's innocence into question, and he is forced to leave the police force. Seven years later, Taggart is working as a private detective. He has quit drinking and is living happily with his actress girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez), whom we saw hugging Taggart at his trial when the judge announced he was free to go. Her back story and the history of her relationship with Taggart turn out to be tied in to what happens later, albeit more tenuously than the film makers probably intended.

Out of the blue, Taggart receives a call from the mayor, who, he discovers, wants him to investigate Hostetler's wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones). She is having an affair, Hostetler says, and he wants Taggart to find the other man before the mayoral election in a few days' time. His campaign against his idealistic rival Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper) isn't going as well as Hostetler has hoped and he wants to make sure his opposition can't use his wife's betrayal against him. Even without the $50,000 fee, it's an offer Taggart knows he can't refuse, but the further he digs, the more deeply he is ensnared in the city's corrupt ruling class. Because nothing is as simple as it seems, of course.

Except Broken City ends up being more straightforward than Hughes would like to think. It is a fairly solid, paint-by-numbers thriller that entertains but never really surprises. The script could have been sharper and wittier; the acting is adequate, although no one really shines. I generally like Mark Wahlberg and he is perfectly likeable in this film, but it isn't his best work; Crowe is suitably creepy and menacing, but both he and Zeta-Jones seem to be calling in their performances. Jeffrey Wright and Kyle Chandler, who plays Valliant's campaign manager, are good, but neither gets enough screen time to really excel. If, like me, you enjoy political or crime thrillers, you'll probably enjoy Broken City but it's definitely not one you need to rush out to catch at the cinema. And sadly, it may be the best Mark Wahlberg film for a while, judging by his IMDb page.

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