By Simon Miraudo
March 5, 2013
Broken City may break new ground when it comes to pioneering cinematic scowls, but that’s the only area where the cast is able to elevate the banal material. Director Allen Hughes (his first time working without brother Albert) and screenwriter Brian Tucker have crafted a truly ho-hum political thriller; one that seeks to coast on the inherent pleasure of seeing Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg trade grimaces. Catherine Zeta-Jones gets some good ones in there, and Jeffrey Wright pretty much only glares these days. Sooner or later though, they all have to pry open their mouths and deliver Tucker’s dialogue. And boy, do we wish they wouldn’t.
It opens with the movie’s lone visual flourish: a slow motion shooting of a black teenager by police officer Billy Taggart (Wahlberg). New York City mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Crowe, hamming it up) promises to sit on some incriminating evidence, essentially putting the cop in his pocket for life. Seven years later, with Billy now retired from the force and working as a private investigator, Hostetler calls him in to finally have the favour repaid. The Mayor suspects his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair, and a scandal is the last thing he needs while seeking re-election. Billy agrees to just follow her around and take some photos. The fact Hostetler is petting a dog while describing the mission should have perhaps indicated he’s not the well-intentioned cuckold he claims to be.
This job offer is preceded by a monologue in which Hostetler describes the difference between men and women, comparing them to loyal, male dogs, and “bitches in heat,” respectively (if not respectfully). That’s the kind of insight offered up in Tucker’s deathly dull and almost embarrassingly stupid script. It’s the kind of stuff you’d imagine a Devil’s Advocate era Al Pacino would recite, however even he probably would have thought twice about taking on the role of Hostetler. Broken City is sub-Pacino. So, just let that sink in.
The characters are universally skeezy, which is surely why Tucker felt comfortable writing such misogynist speeches for them to deliver. But misogyny permeates the script in other ways. Billy fights with his girlfriend (Natalie Martinez) – a professional actor – after watching her sex scene with another man. He leaves her, and they never reunite. Instead, love blossoms between Billy and his brassy assistant Katy (Alona Tal), who promises to “always wait” and be there for him, no matter how dangerous his missions. Meanwhile, the poor ex-girlfriend’s mother takes Billy’s side, calling her a ‘puta.’ This really bugged me. (You’d be surprised what minor subplots you’ll fixate on when the film surrounding it is so tiresome.)
I haven’t even mentioned Hostetler’s political opponent, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper); a noble character, evidenced by his last name. This is the level we’re working at people. Kyle Chandler plays his campaign manager, and Wright appears as the police chief. Broken City has been gifted with a stacked cast, yet it’s all for naught. Hughes can’t breathe life into this supposed scathing indictment of NYC politics; instead he’s smothered by a series of obvious plot machinations, and trapped in a universe populated exclusively by dullards. Wait until you see how this movie depicts political debates. Parks and Recreation is more thrilling in that – and virtually every other – regard.
Broken City arrives in Australian cinemas March 7, 2013.