Corruption-based political thriller Broken City hails from director Allen Hughes – one half of the directorial team behind The Book Of Eli and From Hell – and screenwriter Brian Tucker and offers a murky and coarse, yet deeply scatterbrained and prosaic insight into the underbelly of untrustworthy figures in New York City, complete with all the typical neo-noir tropes, including heavy doses of sex, murder, adultery and deception.
When disgraced cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) narrowly avoids jail time for murder, he hands his life over to New York City mayor Nicolas Hostetler (Russell Crowe). Billy assumes the life of a private investigator. But, when Hostelter calls in a favour seven years later, seven years when he suspects his wife, Cathleen Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones), of adultery, Billy becomes embroiled in a shady plot that’s far more elaborate than what meets the eye.
Broken City desperately tries to be an intricately layered pot-boiler with sly characters executing shady dealings in the hope of outsmarting and one-upping one another. Yet Tucker’s script is uninteresting, paint-by-numbers fare that relies far too heavily on borrowed, well-trodden clichés and a series of progressively irritating double-crossings, back-stabbings and manipulations to come across as anything more than outdated and flaccid.
The narrative, too, is far too convoluted for its own good, with a number of sub-plots introducing new characters right, left and centre before fading into obscurity never to be seen again (Billy’s home life is half-heartedly explored before being dropped). There’s a number of interesting comments on society hidden in there somewhere, particularly to do with power being used wrongly and blackmailing, but it’s such an effort to pick them out that it becomes more of a chore than it should be.
It picks up somewhat towards the end when all the power playing reaches a head and a number of the core secrets are revealed through heated exchanges and arrests, yet it’s an ending that can be seen from a mile off and lacks any kind of an emotional punch. The actors do what they can with the material, with Wahlberg and Zeta-Jones adding some dark humour and virago to their roles respectively. Crowe, meanwhile, doesn’t quite fit in his role as a scheming politician.
Hughes’ style isn’t much to write home about, with much of the film tacking place either at night or in run-down locations in an attempt to accentuate the crime-ridden lives these characters inhabit. It’s kept to a brisk pace though, and has some welcome dashes of wit and intense ferocity scattered throughout, which makes a change from the usual tedium. Broken City, however, never reaches the heights it aspires too, emerging from its own rubble as a failed attempt at an old-school neo-noir.