A couple of weeks ago I delved into the deep dark world of late career M. Nigh Shyamalan with a live tweet of The Happening (2008). Oh my it was painful. A pain you can re-live here.
Broken City has flown under the radar a little. But the trailer suggested that it could be a bit of a sleeper, with police and political machinations perhaps resulting in a taut thriller to blow our minds.
Unfortunately though, the action never reaches the desired level of tautness. It is all pretty ok though. Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, a New York cop who finds himself off the force due to a shooting incident. Some years later, a mysterious call from the mayor of the city, Russel Crowe, plunges him into some deep, dark, money laden places. The film is definitely attempting to play into some noir sensibilities, with a pretty feeble attempt to position the mayor’s missus as a femme fatale. Whilst this aspect fails, somewhat more successful are the more blurry ethical conundrums faced by numerous characters. Though the film is ultimately not willing to go dark enough in this regard to come up with something genuinely hard hitting. Exploring themes of manipulation of power, the contemporary political environment, alcoholism and vigilante justice, there is a fair bit here. Ultimately though it only manages to fall into the helping to hold your interest realm, rather than being all that thought provoking.
The opening title graphics are somewhat reminiscent of a mid 90s TV cop show. Which is kind of apt, because in its plot and much of its execution Broken City often struggles to rise above the contrivances of that standard. What is definitely not mid 90s cop show standard are a number of the performances. Russell Crowe really is one of the best actors of this, or any generation. Even with this middling material, he reminds you that it is between him and Denzel for this generation’s acting King of the Universe. No one else can match them. Matching him here though is Jeffrey Wright, who brings a real intensity to his performance as the conniving Police Chief. The film is far and away at its best when the two of them share the screen and I would have loved to have seen more of them. Especially Wright. Damn he looks fuckin badarse with a shaved head and goatee. I guess unfortunately everything else in comparison to these two is a touch average. Marky Mark and Catherine Zeta-Jones give good performances. But they are not on the same level as the aforementioned two. While the script starts off particularly sharp, especially in its dialogue, the plot spends too much time concerned with disinteresting subplots that do not bring anything to the core narrative – the romance of Mark Wahlberg’s character by far the worst offender. And no mind blowing twist is forthcoming. Actually those that do arrive fall really rather flat, delivering no real sting.
Broken City is good, however always being far too mild to ever approach being great. It is worth a watch if you see it playing somewhere. Though to be honest, there will probably be something else on the cinematic menu that looks a little more enticing.
Verdict: Stubby of Reschs
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