Broken City is a suspense thriller written by Brian Tucker and produced by young director Allen Hughes(Deliver us from Eli) playing out against a shady modern day New York City backdrop centered around Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), A police officer with a troubled history riddled with transgressions. The film eludes to this with a dark opening scene where Billy emerges standing over a dead body before the scene shifts to Billy’s murder trial. Despite a seemingly open and shut case, the Mayor Thomas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) refers to Billy as a hero, securing his release.
The film jumps seven years later where we are reintroduced to Taggart, who establishes his mean streak viciously mauling two men after being confronted peering into a window and chasing down money from deadbeats. Hostetler reemerges as well, immersed in a re-election campaign, he calls on Taggart to keep an eye on his wife in exchange for money (Catherine Zeta Jones) whom he suspects is having an affair. Hostetler portrays this as threatening his chances of re-election in addition to personal shame, reflected when he says “This city won’t elect a mayor whose wife is fucking some guy behind his back”. Although one becomes suspicious about Hostetlers true motives throughout the film as he exhibits a stoic personality. We are exposed to the cynical nature of modern day politics when introduced to challenger Jack Villiant (Barry Pepper), who vents about his opponent being a “crook” and the need to respond to his campaign manager. This foreshadows a certain negative tone, continuing through the films duration. We soon learn the true motives of the mayor lie not with any personal motives, rather Jones reveals to Taggart some compromising information she received about her husband. This leads to a conclusion almost painfully obvious, even to the casual observer, as the film gives away its plot one scene after another.
An essential element of this film is the lack of a true contrast between good and bad exhibited in the characters. Taggart is not the typical main character in that he is aggressive and disrespectful to most he encounters, failing to connect with the viewer in a more positive light. Hostetler, establishes a dominant posture toward Taggart which evolves throughout the film. Hostetler capitalizes on Taggart’s simplistic yet rebellious demeanor as a means towards accomplishing his goals. This is demonstrated when Hostetler remarks upon meeting a clean cut reformed Taggart, “Wow, you look civilized”, symbolizing a kind of condescending view towards Taggart. In one scene, Taggart encounters the mayors wife, and mentions that nobody leaves the mayor, showing a sense of reverence towards not only the man but the office which he holds. Indicative of the power which the title of mayor holds and the potential for corruption is exemplified in this respect.
The viewer also is left with an impression that Taggart is somehow jealous or insecure about his own status as a man and person. Taggart erupts into rage after suspecting his girlfriend Natalie(Natalie Martinez) of cheating on him creating an image of instability which the mayor contrasts in his more commanding cool presence. While Taggart reacts with towards Natalie Hostetler shows a more calm, coy manner with which he deals with his situation.
The contrast between the powerful mayor and powerless low level cop, sets the tone for the story to unfold, as their personal qualities allow for a more manipulative mayor to act as he does. However the film lacks a certain suspense and authenticity seen in typical crime movies. A sense of unoriginality and cliche plot unraveling make the film somewhat disengaging. The characters seemed to contradict their roles and leave the viewer more confused than connected to them. The film builds towards a predictable plot twist with predictable film making plaguing it through it’s entirety.
The role of Wahlberg as Detective Taggart leaves the viewer wanting more as he seems to contradict himself. In these type of movies with contrast between powerful politician and powerless commoner, we usually feel a bond between the commoner. However, in this film the irrational nature of Taggart leaves us bewildered, not knowing what to think about him. With his rage, pedantic outbursts and despicable actions coupled with his naivete, the viewer feels no empathy for his character at all, almost turning on him in favor of a more cunning but well thought out Mayor Hostetler. While Wahlberg came off more endearing and engaging roles in the The Fighter and Contraband, here he looks beaten into submission by a horribly thought out film, with little room for creativity. Mayor Hostetler, in his stoic yet sly character does pull off the corrupt office holder look, but does not sell it to the audience like he could have, partly the directorial deficiency.
Overall the contrast mentioned before is not developed enough, rather the director plays on their individual identities independent of one another, failing to weave the story together with cohesion. While a mysterious element and dark camera work lend the film an eerie feel offering the viewer a dose of potential suspense, the film fails to deliver more than the typical crime film with no real excitement or creativity.