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January 30, 2013
Review: Broken City
— Posted by Elliot Hopper
Synopsis: In a broken city rife with injustice, ex-cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) seeks redemption and revenge after being double-crossed and then framed by its most powerful figure, the mayor (Russell Crowe). Billy’s relentless pursuit of justice, matched only by his streetwise toughness, makes him an unstoppable force and the mayor’s worst nightmare.
Directed by Allen Hughes (Menace to Society, 1993 and The Book of Eli, 2010), Broken City is a crime drama with subtle hints towards the noir genre. It’s Hughes’ first solo directing effort as he normally collaborates with his brother Albert. The casting for this film was essentially star-studded with Mark Wahlberg in the lead role, alongside with Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffery Wright and Barry Pepper. From a strictly visual standpoint the cinematography by Ben Seresin and Hughes’ directing, Broken City really holds up well. Coupled with solid performances from the cast, there is a genuine interaction you see on screen with everyone that provides an equal balance character wise and it is fun to watch.
The driving force behind the film essentially becomes this motif of expected corruption and secrecy. It’s prevalent throughout the film story wise but is honed in character wise more so. And it’s here that Broken City both falters and succeeds. It’s an unfortunate case, mainly from a storyline perspective everything follows a specific path, being almost too formulaic, as you see ‘something’ laid out in the beginning and it’s a matter of seeing the film through to ascertain how all the pieces fit together. By the end you know how it will end despite the fact you are never given enough to figure it out. In some ways Broken City plays up more towards becoming a mystery and you’re along for the ride. The problem lies in the fact the film from a story perspective goes at a tempered pace and doesn’t carry enough weight to really sell the idea ‘this is a good movie’. By all accounts it should be, however if those were expectations, the quota is just barely reached and never filled. We’re left with moments and segments which end almost too abruptly and some are resolved or addressed later in a hidden manner, an aside if you will. My complaint towards the film stems from the idea if you’re going to be mysterious – be mysterious, when tension is building – carry it through, instead Broken City is simply less thrilling and less intrigue as a result. It’s not to say the performances from the actors were bad, I don’t think that was the case, it’s strictly a screenplay issue where the end result is wasting casted talent because the story doesn’t match their own weight.
But maybe that’s the rub, as the film is broken in both a literal meaning of the word and thematically. There is nothing redeeming about all the characters being shown on screen and that’s the point. You’d expect a cliché moment where any of the characters does a 180 and saves themselves, but they never do and it’s a great thing. I’m reminded of how The Departed (2006) ended however with that film there is a sincere level of tension and intrigue that pushes it forward. With Broken City we see it all coming, whereby the story is corrupted but never hits hard enough to make a lasting impression. For the characters it’s merely a hope or just the moment where what’s broken catches up with them despite their attempts to hide it, mask it or simply hold what was once good together in some cheap way. I say that with a level of praise as I think Broken City is more a film of what could have been. In some ways it plays up better to being a modern film with noir sensibilities but in the same stead you wonder what would’ve happened if this film had gone full period piece instead.
Overall Broken City didn’t have me guessing, which was a disappointment. All it had me doing, really, was watching as I steadily ate my popcorn and wondered what the film was all about rather than actually engaging me as a viewer. It wasn’t until the end where I knew and the reason of why, who and everything else you wondered with the plot. Just really didn’t matter anymore. It’s not to say the film is completely forgettable, however in some ways it is and in some ways it isn’t. I guess that’s what they call a mixed reaction which is where my impression of the film lies.
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