‘Broken City constantly tries to tell you how gritty and ‘real’ its story and characters are without actually putting in the work to develop these themes in a justifiable and meaningful way.’
If films such as Roland Emmerich’s “Godzilla” or Woody Allens “Manhattan” are love letters to New York, then Allen Hughes’ Broken City is a pointless letter that should never have been written, sent, delivered or read by anyone. But unfortunately this metaphorical letter has been sent, and during the 1 hour and 49 minutes that it takes to watch this film each of its story lines and characters outstay their welcome longer than the unwieldy metaphorical letter device that I have awkwardly used in the opening paragraph of this review.
Broken City is the first feature film directed by Allen Hughes without the collaboration of his brother Albert. The Hughes brothers are best known for their films “Dead Presidents”, “Menace II Society” and the poor adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel “From Hell”. So with the exception of the latter I was expecting a competently made film at the very least. A reasonable expectation too considering the films cast which consists of Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta Jones and Kyle Chandler to name but a few. But after 10 or 15 minutes of watching Broken City, one comes to the realisation that its all a bit of a mess. Sub plots and characters just disappear bafflingly throughout the course of the film while Hughes tries desperately to rein it all in with the precision and deft touch of a concert pianist playing buckaroo on a rainy Sunday morning in the 70’s whilst tranquilized.
The movie opens with NYPD detective Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) taking the law into his own hands and gunning down the lead suspect in a murder case that he is investigating. This case is particularly close to Taggarts heart as the victim was his girlfriends sister. But thanks to the intervention of New York city mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), who has taken a shine to Taggarts brand of ruthless justice, he manages to avoid being convicted of this crime. Instead only losing his job. Now a private detective, the tables have turned and poor Taggart is again summoned to the mayors office , only now he must do a favour for the mayor. Hostetler is convinced that his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta Jones) is having an affair and wanting to avoid any scandals during the impending mayoral elections asks Taggart to investigate. Obviously there’s more to this case than meets the eye and things soon begin to spiral out of control for poor Taggart as twist after twist unfold gradually pointing towards corruption in the upper echelons of power in New York city.
You can’t make a good movie without a good screenplay, and nowhere is this adage more applicable than in Broken City. The dialogue between characters is so forced and vacuous that the actors, despite their genuine best intentions have nothing to work with in terms of convincing you that they are believable characters. That in itself would not be a huge problem if any of the characters were likable, but sadly this is not the case. The lead character Taggart persistently annoys throughout the course of the film, offering the viewer nothing to engage with and ultimately results in a protagonist that nobody could be bothered rooting for. For example, Taggart seems to take little interest in his girlfriend’s acting career until one poorly judged scene where he attends the premiere of her first film “ Kiss Of Life”. Taggart, who we know from the first act of the film is a recovering alcoholic, suddenly and unbelievably relapses after seeing her act in a sex scene in the movie and goes on an all night self destruct session stumbling around the streets of New York. Poor Taggart is drunkenly smashing stuff up all over the place until receiving a phone call summoning him to a crime scene where he arrives miraculously sober. Although separate to the main narrative of the film, this scene in particular highlights all of the failings of Broken City. Broken characters speaking broken dialogue amounts to nothing more than broken scenes in a broken movie. To take something as dramatically weighted as addiction and to then reduce it to nothing more than a half-assed underdeveloped character flaw is lazy film making. Broken City constantly tries to tell you how gritty and ‘real’ its story and characters are without actually putting in the work to develop these themes in a justifiable and meaningful way.
There is also a slight homophobic undercurrent that runs through the film which similarly left me feeling quite cold about the whole thing. Although the homophobia is only implied in a few scenes throughout the movie, it is enough to make you question the motives of the director. Ultimately, the biggest villain in this 2 hour time apocalypse of a movie is the director himself. Nothing that has been attempted in this film ever works and you’ll spend most of your time in the cinema with your head buried in your hands waiting for this embarrassment to end. That is unless you decide not to go and see Broken City, which would be the decent thing to do for your aul mind.
Fans of Wahlberg and Crowe will be disappointed here too, as neither of them have adequate dialogue to provide memorable performances. Although Crowe does try his best to inject some villainous fun into the film’s plot, it just isn’t enough to provide any memorable scenes that you would expect to take with you from a modern day crime noir thriller. In fact, all you will take with you after watching Broken City will be the lonely voice inside your head, like a ghost, whispering and lamenting the time passed and wasted.