Release Date: January 18, 2013
Director: Allen Hughes
Writer: Brian Tucker
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones
MPAA Rating: R
Director Allen Hughes has made a number of films with his twin brother Albert, including Menace II Society, Dead Presidents and The Book of Eli. Broken City is his first solo directing project. If it’s any indication of the quality of his work on his own, he may want to consider keeping Albert’s phone number handy.
Most casual moviegoers only notice directing if it’s really good or really bad. In highly stylized films, directors may draw attention to their work with the use of slow motion or fancy camera angles and tracking shots, but by and large, most directors want you focusing on the story instead of the mechanics they used to tell it.
Hughes draws attention to his directing for all of the wrong reasons. In an early pivotal scene featuring Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) and Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), Hughes spins the camera around wildly as if the two are on the tea cups ride at Disney World. Then, as Hostetler begins making an extended metaphor about how men are dogs, suddenly a real dog pops into frame out of nowhere. The dog just wanders around Hostetler’s office with no real purpose, which got laughs from the audience at my screening and completely distracted everyone from the conversation the two main characters were having.
Of course, the writing does Hughes no favors either. The fact that Hostetler is even comparing men to dogs in the first place is such a tired, pointless analogy. The movie wants to be a tense, thoughtful film noir, but at so many points the writing just seems lazy or nonsensical that it never develops into something worth investing in.
The story revolves around Hostetler’s bid for reelection. He hires Taggart, a private eye, to follow his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) under the guise of discovering who she’s having an affair with. Hostetler hires Taggard because of his checkered past – Taggart is a disgraced former police officer accused of murdering someone in cold blood, which he was acquitted of. Hostetler is less-than-honest about his reasons for wanting his wife followed, but he believes Taggart will go along with his plans because of his checkered past.
The story has a few twists and turns, but all of them are handled in the most ham-handed way possible. Taggart finds a key piece of evidence in a box leaning up against a dumpster, even though Hughes shows us that the workers inside the building are shredding documents left and right. We are apparently supposed to believe they shredded everything except the one key piece of evidence Taggart needed, which they felt comfortable leaving in the first box any passerby would stumble across – a box they didn’t even bother actually throwing inside the dumpster. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t write “Box o’ Evidence” on the outside of it in Sharpie to save Taggart some time in finding it.
Similarly, another key piece of evidence is kept in a wall safe. But it turns out the key to open it is kept on a shelf just above the safe, which I would think defeats the purpose of locking it up.
When the writing isn’t lazy, it’s just nonsensical. Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) gets suspicious of Taggart when he sees him sniffing around a murder scene. But then, moments later, Fairbanks takes Taggart with him to interrogate a key witness to the crime. Why would he do that – except for the fact that writer Brian Tucker needed Taggart in the room to overhear the information?
The big secret plot that Taggart ends up uncovering seems incredibly lackluster as well. Perhaps it just wasn’t properly explained, but I found myself wondering why what Taggart uncovered would be worth killing people over and going to such lengths to bury.
There is also an entire pointless subplot featuring Taggart’s girlfriend Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez). Barrow, an actress, takes Taggart to the premiere of her movie, which upsets him due to the graphic sex scene in it. This sends Taggart into a booze-filled rage and establishes his drinking problem which, like so many things in this film, comes out of left field and ends up having no real payoff.
The cast is solid and filled with a surprising amount of memorable names considering the underwhelming material. It’s hard to imagine what lured them into this project (unless you cynically choose to believe it was simply money). The fact that this film is being released in January is evidence that the studio doesn’t have much faith in it, but it’s hard to really understand why the studio and the cast ever had any faith in it to begin with.
Perhaps there was a good movie in here somewhere, but it’s hard to see what it would have been based on what ended up on-screen. With bad directing and bad writing, it’s this movie that’s truly broken.
Written by Joel Murphy. If you enjoy his reviews, he also writes a weekly pop culture column called Murphy’s Law, which you can find here. You can contact Joel at firstname.lastname@example.org.