'Broken City' Review: Cringe-Worthy Drama Sneaks in Tax the Rich Rhetoric
“Every forum’s the proper forum. Act accordingly,” the contemptible mayor (Russell Crowe) says to his calculating wife in the new film Broken City.
Subtly threatening her, he informs her she should sing his praises at every event where she speaks. With the election only days away, this incumbent needs every vote he can get. He’s campaigning for a new term, but with the film's sophomoric political ideas, unfocused storylines and inane dialogue that shouts “rewrites needed,” the only thing this movie seems to be campaigning for is a Razzie.
As the story begins, a bearded police officer named Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) stands over some dead bodies in the middle of the night. The shooting of the victims around him was controversial, leading Taggart to a courtroom where, despite the evidence against him, he gets off scot-free. The story then flashes to seven years later when Mayor Hostetler (Crowe), who applauded Taggart’s courtroom victory earlier, appears again to seek Taggart’s assistance in investigating his wife.
Hostetler believes his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair. Taggart, who now works as a private investigator, is tasked with finding out the truth.
The facts, as was inevitable, are more complicated than Taggart believes. But the truth about this movie is is much easier to explain. It's a complete mess.
From its opening sequences, each of the characters seems to simply settle into their forgettable and cliche-ridden roles. Crowe, who spent his time singing in “Les Miseacute;rables,” spends his time yelling here. He’s a big-city mayor so of course, he’s a controlling politician who is willing to do whatever it takes. His wife is the cold-hearted eye candy that Hostetler stays with even though there’s no love lost between them. Add to that the truth-spouting, justice-craving Taggart and you have a three ring circus of caricatures simplistically attempting to out-maneuver one another.
What they end up doing is outmaneuvering the audience, who will be surprised by all of the tangents, silly subplots and extraneous scenes that weigh this story down. There are scenes here of Taggart’s relationship with his girlfriend that are laughably ill-suited for the rest of the movie. The ex-cop (who, as cliché would have it, is a former alcoholic who inevitably starts drinking again) becomes jealous over his girlfriend’s relationship with some of her fellow actors in a small movie that she appears in. He’s jealous of her co-stars while the audience watching Broken City will likely be jealous of the two characters. They walked into a theater and saw a movie that wasn’t Broken City.
If that wasn’t enough, the screenplay dumbs down the political campaign that stands at the forefront of the story. In glimpses of the debate we see between Hostetler and his opponent Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), we watch as the two spout off talking points that would bore any person who followed the 2012 political campaign. Valliant—the idealistic young guy—wants to raise taxes on people who make more than $200,000 a year. Hostetler—the cold, ruthless incumbent—is against them and believes that all Valliant wants to do is tax and tax and then tax some more.
Couldn't we get a little more depth here beyond Conservative Bashing 101?
The movie still fails to come together even after the final mysteries are revealed. When during the climactic scene where certain characters are revealed to be lowlifes and others revealed to be heroes, it’s hard to follow who is who and who did what. It’s even harder to actually care.