Having made all previous titles – including From Hell and The Book of Eli – as part of a directing double act alongside his twin brother Albert, Allen Hughes now takes centre stage for the very first time with Broken City – yet despite the heavyweight cast and compelling narrative, perhaps he may have been somewhat better off with a little help from his dearest sibling.
Mark Wahlberg leads the cast as Billy Taggart, an ex-cop who moves into a career as a private eye when a controversial murder case forces him out of law enforcement. With consistent support from the New York City Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), the pair strike up a deal whereby Billy will be paid a large sum of money to investigate the Mayor’s wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), as he is convinced she’s having an affair. As the forthcoming mayoral elections hit overdrive, Billy soon realises that not all is as it seems, and beneath this simple task he has been given, lies a host of political implications.
Broken City is your everyday cop thriller, but despite the cast and the intriguing story, you do expect more than you are given, as you don’t quite feel that this particular feature has been executed to its full potential. It falls at a similar hurdle to so many thrillers, as it becomes far too intricate for its own good, needlessly overcomplicating matters when simplicity so often works best. That said, Hughes certainly keeps us guessing throughout, as he maintains the ability to hold the audience’s attention right until the very end, as you ponder the several ways this film may conclude. The structure is intelligently devised also, as we begin instantly with an image of Billy standing over a dead body – and although undetermined as to what exactly has occurred, it’s this very occurrence which sets up the entire narrative.
Talking of the narrative, one of the biggest issues with Broken City is the unnecessary decision to venture into corresponding subplots, in particular that of the romantic relationship between Billy and Natalie (Natalie Martinez) – one which not only remains highly superfluous, but also open ended and indefinite. Meanwhile, the script does little favours to the story we are following, as despite the various themes at play – with politics, romance, and crime all at the forefront – the screenplay backs away from serious dialogue, becoming far too reliant on lazy, sensationalist one liners that just don’t work. In terms of devaluing the feature, it’s also much more vulgar than it needs to be, with the occasional cheap homophobic and sexist remarks littered around that bear little relevance to the overall story.
Nonetheless, what saves this feature are the powerhouse performances from those involved, as the credentials of the experienced cast prove to be more than essential on this occasion. Wahlberg displays his fine talent for seamlessly moving between straight and comedic roles, with a natural ability for both genres, and the scenes between Wahlberg and Crowe are by far the standouts in the film. Having said this, Broken City is unashamedly rife with Chinatown references, and it’s when you draw comparisons to Jack Nicholson’s astonishing performance in Roman Polanski’s masterpiece, that you do feel the need to tone down your appraisals somewhat.
Although Broken City promises more than is ultimately delivered, it remains an easy to indulge in thriller, and one that – despite the inability to really make the audience think – stays true to what it’s trying to be and doesn’t attempt too much. Of course having said that corrupt politics do come into play as we discover that in this particular world the Mayor of New York is a fraudulent, cheating, murderous scumbag. Perhaps Boris isn’t so bad at all.