PLOT: Taggert (Wahlberg), a former cop turned private investigator, is hired by the mayor of New York City (Crowe) to investigate his wife (Zeta-Jones). As Taggert follows the first lady, he uncovers a city scandal worth billions.
WHO'S IT FOR? To enjoy Broken City, you'd have to be a big follower of Wahlberg, no matter what mess he (as a star) may find himself in. Supporters of Crowe or even Zeta-Jones will be disappointed to see them so underused. Anyone looking for a more intriguing story of corruption will find better narratives in a newspaper.
EXPECTATIONS: The casting of Wahlberg opposite Crowe sounded promising, if at least within a story that seemed to focus on corruption. Going into the film as open as possible, I tried to forget it was coming out in the cinematic dumping period of the winter season.
Mark Wahlberg as Billy Taggert: The largest and strangest piece to the Broken City puzzle is Wahlberg, who is front-and-center through this movie (he co-produced it). Playing one of the worst private eyes in the business (everyone seems to be able to size him up), Wahlberg seems invested in making himself look goofy, to at least hold the audience's attention as a clown. There's even a scene in which we get to laugh at him as he presents himself as an outsider to the film world, uncomfortable around actors and naive to a sex scene his actress girlfriend stars in. Whenever Wahlberg is taking this film seriously, it's on auto-Wahlberg, which becomes unamusing quickly. He doesn't even have the genuineness of being in his Boston homeland to provide anything special. Score: 4
Russell Crowe as Mayor Hostetler: Crowe is built to play a politician. He has the intimidating build, the weary eyes, and he even has the commanding low voice. But, this efficient casting is wasted with this role, in that the direct character doesn't welcome the color palette that Crowe seems eager to bring to it. Crowe does have one good moment, and it's probably the most interesting scene in the film; in which he tells his wife to "act accordingly," while his fingers around her neck are ready to strangle her. Score: 5
Catherine Zeta-Jones as Catherine Hostetler: Before we learn of her honest worth to the story, Zeta-Jones doesn't create much intrigue as the mysterious first lady being pursued. Used in the film primarily as a distraction, Zeta-Jones is not put to much else work here. Score: 4
Jeffrey Wright as Carl Fairbanks: In a film comprised of shady characters, this is the figure with the darkest veil over his face. His distinct shiny head look (bad makeup?) is better as a variation on alien life forms than an aging man with baldness. Bounding in and out of the story, his importance to the rest of the business confusing, this is a character primarily used to mix thing up, making the hopes of clarity for the film all the more dim. Score: 4
TALKING: Halfway through the film, in one of Wahlberg's more direct dances with the audience, his character shouts, "Doesn't anyone speak in complete f**king sentences around here?" It is the cry of a character too aware of this script's biggest fault, that of relying on half-wording to create intrigue, which only heightens the tediousness of the secret being saved for a third act reveal. Other moments of dialogue test the audience's patience with elements of corniness, such as when Crowe goofily suggests, "We must remain un-f*cked," or when Wahlberg whines, "Tell me the truth or I swear to God I'll start breaking sh*t!" That last line is reminiscent of the same type of attitude (albeit sarcastic) from Wahlberg's Ted: "This guy took mah teddy bea-ah!" Score: 3
SIGHTS: With much of the script saddling itself with dialogue it can't own up to, the cinematography by Ben Seresin fails to add a sense of claustrophobic immediacy by having the camera freely revolve around conversing characters. A brief surge of energy is attempted later in the film with a short car chase sequence, but it is shot with remarkable flatness, with lack of inspiration acknowledged by the script, as the film soon glosses over this moment as if it were only in the film to beef up trailers. Score: 4
SOUNDS: While the drama of Broken City may hardly have any dynamism itself, the score of the film adds a little sharpness, as co-composed by Atticus Ross. Like the music he previously wrote for The Social Network, electronic blips and echoing pianos are in order. Score: 6
BEST SCENE: I laughed too loudly watching Wahlberg squirm at a showing of his girlfriend's "independent movie."
ENDING: Wahlberg completes his silly presence in Broken City with a laughable slow motion wave goodbye.
QUESTIONS: How much control exactly did Wahlberg have as a producer? Did the actors involved with this movie get on board truly thinking it was a good script? Or did they just like the ideas being mentioned?
REWATCHABILITY: Not likely. The entertainment value of this movie is consistently low, even if Wahlberg is sporadically made me giggle.
What does the power of money get you, other than a bunch of guilt-free nights of pizza delivery without having to worry about paying the rent last month? Control.
This is a story of control in a failed system, as Wahlberg tries to control a failing narrative by heightening it with his own presence. While it is admirable that he shows a sense of humor to his macho imagery by playing a clown, this decision makes Broken City even worse — it's a joke of a contemporary thriller, one that is best taken as an underwhelming comedy about a terrible private eye understanding how comically corrupt his city is. Everyone's got their hands dirty. This movie doesn't so much speak to cynicism, but stupidism.
Sans the acknowledgement of Wahlberg, Broken City is a story that is not as slick as it may think it is; it's mercilessly slow, with a tedious mystery that has no tension to it. Broken City drags audiences from scene to scene without providing any reason that they should be sticking around. This goes for the actors as well - in a dimension different from our own, there's a better performance from Crowe in this film, but it is not here. For a film so concerned with portraying corruption like it were a trending topic, Broken City reaches no deeper than the depth of a Drudge Report headline.
FINAL SCORE: 4/10