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Clueless Movie Reviews: “Broken City”

All you Russell Crowe fans out there, breathe a sigh of relief. There’s not a single scene in his latest outing, “Broken City”, where he sings anything, and that’s good.

All you Russell Crowe fans out there, breathe a sigh of relief. There’s not a single scene in his latest outing, Broken City, where he sings anything. Therefore, it’s safe to go see the film; in fact, you really should treat yourself to this one, as he’s the best thing this otherwise generic crime thriller has to offer.

Broken City stars Mark Wahlberg as Billy Taggert, a New York cop forced to resign after his involvement in a shooting that almost inspired a citywide riot. Seven years after the incident, Billy’s a private detective who tails and takes pictures of spouses cheating and then deals with clients who often refuse to pay. Sleazy? Sure, but it pays the bills … or it would, if Billy could ever collect from the deadbeats he ends up working for.

He’s near the end of his rope when he gets a call from Mayor Nick Hostetler (Crowe), a career politician who held Billy as a hero for his actions in the shooting years before, and helped keep him out of jail. Hostetler believes his beautiful wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is cheating on him, and he offers Billy just the right amount of money to provide him with photographic proof of the adultery. “The easiest $50,000 you’ve ever made,” the mayor says, especially if Billy doesn’t find any proof of infidelity before the hotly-contested mayoral election, just a few days away. The mayor needs to know if his suspicions are correct and, if they are, keep the story out of the public eye. Billy needs the money and believes in paying his debts, and he knows he owes Hostetler. Deal done.

Maybe if Billy wasn’t so desperate he’d know right away that things can’t be that simple, because of course they aren’t. Because you’ve seen movies like this before — MANY times before — you’ll certainly know right away, and despite the twists the film throws out, it will never quite surprise you, because movies like this are always filled with twists, and nothing is ever as it initially seems.


It’s hard to imagine why director Allen Hughes (The Book of Eli, From Hell) would choose this script and this vehicle to break off on his own from his brother, Albert, with whom he co-directed so many successful features going all the way back to 1993’s Menace II Society. He makes the most with what the story gives him, focusing on creating suspense through character interaction rather than with fight scenes and car chases. The few action scenes he does give us are short, visceral, and gritty, grounded more in how these things might really play out rather than the usual bombastic Hollywood convention, and that’s a good thing.

Hughes’ efforts also benefit from a committed performance from Crowe, whose Mayor Hostetler has won just as many political and personal battles with intimidation as he has with charm and eloquence. He’s a dominant presence in his every scene, making it easy to believe that this man has built a life and a career by getting what he wants through any means necessary. It’s not often that Crowe plays the heavy (although his recent turns in The Man With the Iron Fists and Les Miserables seem to indicate that it’s territory he’s interested in exploring), and this performance in particular should stand as proof that he can pull it off in a sophisticated, nuanced fashion.

Too bad that every other performance here feels phoned in. Wahlberg has played New York cops or ex-cops entirely too often, and no amount of superfluous character background — here he struggles to hold together a marriage to an aspiring actress (Natalie Martinez) while not working the case for Hostetler, in a subplot that goes nowhere — can help him at this point make his cop characters distinct from one another. In comparison, Zeta-Jones simply isn’t given enough to do here, aside from look the part of a politician’s wife. If you recall, she did that last year in Rock of Ages, and looked like she was having a lot more fun there.

In the end, a great deal of what you might imagine the filmmakers felt made Broken City unique and compelling in fact simply feels contrived and irrelevant. What you’re left with when you strip all those contrivances away is something utterly forgettable, a run-of-the-mill potboiler that’s beneath the talent of both the actors and the director involved.

But again, there is a bright side. Crowe doesn’t sing.

Score: 2.5 out of 5

Broken City
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler, Natalie Martinez, and Jeffrey Wright. Directed by Allen Hughes.
Running Time: 109 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence.