Director, Allen Hughes, may have been vilified by the mainstream movie critics for Broken City, but my take on it is the absolute opposite of theirs. I consider it a half star short of brilliant. In a brief prologue in the beginning of the movie, we witness Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), a former cop, beating the rap for a vigilante murder despite demonstrations for justice in the Hispanic community that rivals what we witnessed recently all over America in the Trayvon Martin case. Taggart’s innocence is suspect by a beleaguered Police Chief Fairbanks, played by the inimitable Jeffrey Wright, but hailed as heroic by smarmy New York City Mayor Hostetler, played by Russell Crowe. The Mayor promises not to forget Taggart in the future even as he is relieved of his badge by the police chief in the wake of his acquittal.
Fast forward seven years (with no apparent term limits), Mayor Hostetler is up for re-election and his opponent is a beloved City Councilman, aptly named Jack Valliant, played by one of my favorite character actors bar-none, Barry Pepper. Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) is now working as a private dick and specializes in uncovering spousal indiscretions. However, he’s such a good-hearted fellow, his clientele often takes his kindness for weakness and doesn’t pay him for his hard work. One of the best scenes in the movie involves Taggart and his hilarious office assistant, Katy Bradshaw, played by Alona Tal (one to watch in my opinion), doing collection calls when he learns that his uncollected fees amount to about $40,000.
A ring of corruption in New York’s City Hall that involves the Mayor and his closest supporters and friends is the backdrop for this ambitious political thriller. A week before Election Day, Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe), the gruff, conservative mayor, who was seemingly the only public servant on Billy Taggart’s side when he was facing murder charges, enlists the private eye to follow his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) whom he suspects of infidelity. In the process, Taggart becomes a pawn in deadly cat-and-mouse electoral machinations, and also in Hostetler’s love/hate relationship with his now Commissioner of Police (Jeffrey Wright).
The intense, intelligent acting by the whole cast is matched by tight cinematography that captures the authenticity of the city’s locations. Coupled with airtight storytelling, with more twists than a labyrinth, and witty dialogue that keeps the plot moving from beginning to end, Broken City is, in my humble opinion, one of the best and most entertaining films I’ve seen in a while. It only slowed down once, and that was when Allen inserted the film-within-a-film plot device, involving Billy attending the première of his girlfriend Natalie’s (Natalie Martinez) big break in a stereotypical independent movie. Billy’s struggle with alcoholism is stretched to the breaking point when he witnesses the woman he loves in a hot, naked sex scene with the film’s leading man, which throws him into a tailspin that almost compromises his investigation. Billy realizes when City Councilman Valliant’s Campaign Manager, Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), ends up dead, that he wasn’t just investigating a simple case of infidelity.
At its core Broken City is a movie about how corruption at the top affects the lives of everyday people, and how those everyday people will expose corruption for what it is, even if it means sacrificing oneself for the greater good.
Sometimes, I think critics forget, we don’t go to movies to analyze them to pieces. We go to movies to be entertained!
I give Broken City 4.5 out of 5 stars!