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This political thriller should be an ensemble smash, but even with a killer prologue, Broken City falls to pieces...
Fox / 109 Minutes / 2013 / Rated R / Street Date: April 30, 2013
Broken City wants to be a modern-day L.A. Confidential, a movie about secret deals and back-room allegiances that spiral situations out of control, but it actually plays out more like a so-so TV crime drama. The cast here is ridiculously recognizable – Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, even Kyle Chandler! – but the leaden, painfully on-the-nose dialogue they’re given to recite cuts their collective star power off at the knees.
The main reason Broken City is so disappointing is that among its elite Hollywood-marquee talent, it’s Wahlberg who most desperately wants the thing to work. His performance as detective Billy Taggart is one that reaches for the rafters: the underrated actor really gives it his all. In the opening sequences of the movie, it seems like Taggart’s bad decision making and a shooting that both gets the guy into court and finds him getting acquitted because of glad-handing and upper-echelon string-pulling might light the fuse of a fine film, but Broken City crumbles before the thirty-minute mark.
It feels like all these top-tier performers signed on to a project like Broken City because the lure of a solid neo-noir is patently irresistible. In fact, it feels like the Hollywood world is primed for a movie like this one, a throwback that offers an All the King’s Men-esque expose of the dirtiness that continues to plague politics as well as a fun nostalgic bent toward black-and-white Bogart thrillers of a lost age. But Broken City isn’t that movie.
To throw salt in the wound, discovering that Menace II Society co-helmer Allen Hughes directed Broken City inspires distinct disappointment. Every element of the movie’s shape and syntax feels wonderful, like it’s headed for a slam-dunk, but like Warner’s recent Gangster Squad, a desire to reinvent an old movie genre is not enough to keep all pistons firing. One really wants a picture like Broken City to work, but after a legitimately killer prologue, the thing runs off the rails.