Aneesh Chaganty

Broken City | MAD Review

In Uncategorized on January 19, 2013 at 8:24 PM

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Broken City

(2013, US, d. Allen Hughes)

Somewhere deep down under this film was a very good idea for a motion picture. It must have been the idea that got the likes of Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright and Kyle Chandler attached to Broken City, because I’ll tell you one thing: the script sure didn’t.

Broken City tells the story of Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), a New York police officer forced to hand over his badge after a controversial shooting. However, New York City Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) believes Taggart, despite the situation, to be a hero so he keeps him out of prison. Now, seven years later, Taggart manages a private detective agency in the same city. Guess who comes back knocking on his door.

A week away from the mayoral elections, Hostetler believes his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is sleeping with the opponent’s campaign manager (Kyle Chandler) and hires Taggart to follow up on those hunches. Pretty soon, what started out like a simple case turns into chaos – nothing is as it seems and everyone is clearly hiding something.

A film noir craftily adapted for modern times by director Allen Hughes, Broken City falls apart not in the production, but in the writing. Newcomer writer Brian Tucker can never establish whether he wants to write a thought-provoking, adult drama or just a script that hits every plot point and marketable piece of material to appease any executive it’s read by.

There are moments when this film really works. The concept behind it is intriguing and the dilemmas the plot raises are more than enough to carry a film. Why then did Tucker feel the need to permeate the script with dialogue straight out of a Schwarzenegger flick? There were moments when all 7 members in the matinee audience cracked up and I’ll tell you something: it wasn’t because Tucker was being clever.

Another question is: “Why didn’t Hughes recognize the blatant flaws in the material?”. He already had the plot and the rich performances he needed (keep in mind, only great actors can make terrible, recycled lines come to life). It’s not that hard to snip away at the moments that don’t work. And there were a lot.

On top of everything else are the wasted subplots. I remember being partially invested in the story of Taggart and his actress-girlfriend, played by Natalie Martinez, but it’s just wasted space on paper that feels far longer than the 120 pages it must have consumed.

 In fact, if anyone was really paying attention to the material, they would have tried to explore the dilemma that is brought into the light in only the last 10 pages. If the rest of the movie were about that, it would have been far more interesting.

Broken City is a failed attempt to bandage a poorly-written story with crafty direction, strong performances (even thought it does feature a Russell Crowe who looks like he accepted the job offer in a tanning booth and reported straight to set), and a slick score straight out of The Social Network (the film was co-composed by Atticus Ross). It’s hard to watch a movie with such potential fall apart. But hey, at least the title will always serve as a great pun.

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