MRR Movie Review: Broken City

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An ex-cop-turned-private eye named Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is hired by the mayor of New York City to see if his wife is cheating on him. His suspicions are confirmed, and when the wife's lover ends up dead, Taggart immerses himself in the mayor's business, ultimately uncovering an even bigger scandal. Directed and co-produced by Allen Hughes, this crime thriller stars Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones & Kyle Chandler.
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MRR Movie Review: "Broken City"

-- Rating: R (violence, pervasive language, and some sexual content)
Length: 109 minutes
Release Date: January 18, 2013
Directed by: Allen Hughes
Genre: Drama/Crime/Thriller

There seems to be a trend among indie films that harkens back to the days of black-and-white detective dramas, and "Broken City" aims to bring that trend into the world of mainstream blockbusters. Although the movie, which stars high-profile actors like Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, certainly didn't do poorly during its first weekend at the box office, it had a slow start that may have been due in part to the fact that the movie was up against heavy hitters like "Zero Dark Thirty" and "Mama." Another reason the film may not see huge gains out of the gate is that people may be reluctant to lay down cash to see yet another Wahlberg crime drama.

Unlike Wahlberg's previous Jersey-boy criminal and military hard-hitter roles, the character of Billy Taggert in "Broken City" is a redeemed individual looking to make it as a private detective. The story takes on a neo-noir element as the mayor (Russell Crowe) hires Taggert to spy on his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The Mayer suspects his wife of infidelity but is more concerned about the damage a scandal could cause in his political life. As Taggert becomes involved in the investigation, things get complicated. In fact, the plotline develops into such a complex web of mysteries that some viewers report being unable to follow it all.

The mish-mash of plotlines is highlighted by earnest performances by all the actors, and since the cast is full of people who really can act, they come very close to redeeming the film. Wahlberg delivers a characteristically deep and gritty performance as a private eye who is caught in events bigger than he is. Crowe is brilliant as the corrupt and powerful mayor, delivering with equal zest the parts of charming politician and conniving criminal. The role of mysterious and elegant trophy wife is superbly played by Zeta-Jones, and numerous character actors like Kyle Chandler, Jeffrey Wright, and Barry Pepper add their talents to this flick.

As Taggert delves into the life of the Mayor's wife, he discovers that she is aware of his work. She even offers to pay him more money to stop, which is when he begins to figure out that something else is going on. The deepening mystery is backed by a hard-core political battle between the mayor and his opponent, James Valiant. Before Taggert can make sense of what he has learned, Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler) is killed. Taggert was originally hired to bring the Mayor evidence that his wife was having an affair with Andrews, but the mystery only expands after Andrews' death. Soon, Taggert is faced with evidence of a billion-dollar fraud that involves the mayor and some of the most powerful players in town.

In an attempt to recreate the old-fashioned film-noir detective story in an original and modern way, the writer and director of "Broken City" may have may have made the material a bit too challenging. The writing is so complex that even the experienced cast is hard pressed to reach the viewer, and many of the plotlines don't make easy sense. Loose ends abound, although that has become a common fixture of modern movies. Filmmakers don't like to tidy it all up in the end, opting instead to portray a gritty and dramatic reality. Even so, "Broken City" might have benefited from some tighter editing and more original dialogue.

There is an almost laid-back feel to some of the action, as if someone was taking the easy way out. This is probably due to the fact that Wahlberg fans expect a bigger rush and a playback at the end in order to tie the conspiracy together. Since "Broken City" is not your traditional heist or action film, however, there is little of that. Instead, viewers are faced with a grim look at grey ethics that could leave them questioning values and wondering where the hero is at the end of the day.

"Broken City" definitely works as a crime drama, although the thematic elements are currently being addressed by numerous television series in a more crowd-pleasing manner. The film is still worth watching for those who enjoy a complex puzzle and dislike simple plots handed over on a platter. The tried-and-true cast compensates for some troubled writing, and anyone who enjoys seeing Wahlberg flex his muscles in a dramatic role can find entertainment value in pitting him against the wicked delivery of a villainous Crowe.

Rating: 3 out of 5