Broken City – A Review

Sometimes the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts.

The ingredients were there for Broken City to be an interesting movie; Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones are both solid actors and while I don’t think anyone would call Mark Wahlberg a thespian, he can certainly hold his own. The story on the surface had potential: the Mayor of NYC (Crowe) hires a former cop turned private investigator (Wahlberg) to follow his wife (Zeta-Jones) to ostensibly find proof of her infidelity. But as the case progresses, it becomes clear that there is more to this surveillance than simply a cheating wife; Wahlberg may have stumbled upon a healthy dose of subterfuge and political corruption. Done right, this could have been a thrilling noir film.

It was not done right because Broken City was a confusing film that wastes the talented cast. There is no depth to the characters and the writers seem to believe that constant twists in the story can take the place of an actual solid plot. It is inexplicably slow in parts and takes you down alleys that wind up going nowhere. You’d be better off watching any of the solid cable television dramas than this exceedingly mediocre film.

I’m not sure how they did it, but Broken City is both exceedingly simple, yet inordinately confusing. Corruption in government is nothing new – I live in Albany after all, home to what was found to be the most dysfunctional state legislature in the nation – so the idea that there might be some shady dealings going on in NYC government is not all that shocking. Once your governor has to step down because of having sex with a prostitute, the bar is kind of raised for what you consider scandalous. To quote Shania Twain, backroom business deals don’t impress me much. Broken City relies on a lot of coincidences and conveniences; for a city that boasts 8 million people, you’d think that there wouldn’t be this number of interconnected relationships. The world in Broken City is just too small to be realistic.

On the other hand, the writer of the film incorporates so many twists and unnecessary complications to the plot that this inherent simplicity in the base story is then muddled and confusing. I’m a smart girl, but on multiple occasions I found myself unable to fully understand what was going on. When my reaction during the film is “Wait – What?” that’s not a good sign. The first unexpected reveal was interesting; the sixth was tiresome.

The characters are also not much more than caricatures in Broken City; Crowe and Wahlberg try to give their characters some depth, and Wahlberg is a little more successful since the viewer spends more time with him, but the supporting characters are just too broad. Further exasperating the issue is that the characters are written so that they can switch allegiances or make some big reveal at any time. They are just pawns in service of plot developments rather than fully actualized characters. When absolutely nothing is as it seems, you don’t care about anything.

Some other quick thoughts:

  • Coach Taylor alert! Kyle Chandler seems determined to get into as many movies as possible this year. Good for him, though the quality of this film doesn’t live up to his other choices (Argo and Zero Dark Thirty)
  • Governor Andrew Cuomo is not going to be happy that another politician is taking credit for same-sex marriage in New York, fictional or not.
  • Wahlberg had some excellent chemistry with the actress that played his assistant (Alona Tal). Watching them banter was fun, even if she got stuck with some pretty dreadful dialogue.
  • I think I have PTSD from Les Misérables. I kept waiting for Russell Crowe to burst into song (which might have actually helped this movie).
  • As written, I’m not sure how Russell Crowe won the mayoral campaign once, let alone him running for his third term. He just wasn’t that charming.
  • It’s really astounding that Wahlberg could go from being a drunk to clear headed investigator in a matter of moments.
  • Crowe’s opponent in the mayoral race was played by Barry Pepper, who has been in a lot of things but will always be Roger Maris to me from his role in 61*
  • It really wasn’t this type of movie, but it would have been funny if Mark Wahlberg had crossed paths with his brother Donnie, who plays a NYC cop on the CBS program Blue Bloods.
  • Good rule of thumb – when a politician wants to buy up the land where poorer residents live, there is probably something nefarious going on behind the scenes.

I didn’t have extremely high hopes for Broken City – January is typically when studios dump their crappy movies – but I still left disappointed that all its potential was basically wasted to make a very average film. With a different script, I think there could have been a really interesting and stylish movie. Surprise twists alone can’t make a movie; just ask M. Knight Shyamalan. Broken City is a broken movie and even the star power of the cast can’t fix it.