Another tale of political corruption in the US here, Broken City feels very much a product of a different time, that time being the 1990s.
Written by newcomer Brian Tucker, Broken City sees New York’s slimy mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) trying to win a tight re-election campaign against improbably nice politician Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). His name sounds like valiant, so you know he’s the good guy. Unfortunately for everyone (including us), the manipulative Mrs. Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having a not-so-subtle affair, and her accomplice may be a member of Valliant’s campaign team. Proper scandal here, like.
Enter Mark Wahlberg’s Billy Taggart, a disgraced former cop let off the hook by Hostetler back in the day, now a struggling private detective. Taken on by Hostetler to spy on his wife, Billy soon ends up getting caught in a web of intrigue and back-stabbery that might make a good TV movie version of L.A. Confidential.
Breaking so little new ground that it actually manages to pack dirt back into that hole, Broken City is however a passable entertainment, the sort of film that you might catch on the telly at 11pm after an aborted night out and be very grateful to have stumbled upon.
Crowe and Wahlberg, two actors prone to violent bouts of over-acting when under-directed, make a surprisingly good pair here, neither quite able to out-class, or out-yell, the other. Zeta-Jones sleepwalks through her role like never before, but the always reliable Jeffrey Wright and comeback king Kyle Chandler provide quality support, however rarely.
Director Allen Hughes, out on his own for the first time having made the likes of From Hell and The Book of Eli with his twin brother Albert, goes for a gritty look in his film, but finds the night sky of New York too polluted with office lights and street lamps. Even in the darkest corners of Brooklyn Hughes can’t quite make New York look like a bad place to live. The constantly moving camera makes one wonder if his D.P. was involved in some twisted re-enactment of the film Speed, where if the camera dropped under 2 miles per hour it would explode.
The main plot may be nothing new, but it has enough little twists to keep the attention, even if it never gives a sense of New York City beyond the corridors of power. The subplots are a mess however, with Billy’s troubled relationship and even more troubled past feeling like after thoughts, which are hardly resolved at all.
With some nice touches, particularly a television debate between Hostetler and Valliant – in which Crowe is finely caked in fake tan – that takes a turn for the nasty, Broken City is still little more than another post-Oscars screen-filler. It will do fine until something better comes along, but it’ll do even finer on Netflix during a post-Christmas party hangover. If you must see it, save it for then.
(originally published at http://www.filmireland.net)