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Watching Broken City is a lot like popping the hood of a hybrid car. Once you get past the shiny exterior you realize there isn't much there. Trim and efficient, Broken City nonetheless becomes less compelling as its secrets are revealed and the audience realizes there was hardly a mystery at all. Mark Wahlberg is former NYPD detective Billy Taggart, who was fired after killing the man who raped and murdered his sister-in-law. Taggart avoids jail thanks to New York City Major Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), who eventually calls on Taggart to use his current private-eye skills to track down his possibly cheating wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones). The acting, including supporting turns by Kyle Chandler, Jeffrey Wright and Barry Pepper, is solid across the board, but Brian Tucker's script is full of holes and dangling plot points. Director Allen Hughes takes the reins without his usual directing partner and brother Albert Hughes, and creates an expectedly slick, well-paced film. Broken City runs a quick 108 minutes but never leaves "Rent It" territory thanks to its clumsy handling of political malfeasance.
Taggart stirs up a political debate when he kills his sister-in-law's rapist and murderer in the line of duty. Mayor Hostetler claims to admire Taggart's sense of justice and makes some damning evidence disappear, ending Taggart's legal woes at the State's probable cause hearing. Seven years later, Taggart works as a private dick, mostly filming cheating spouses to benefit the other's divorce settlement. Hostetler calls in a long-delayed but not unexpected favor, asking Taggart to find the man his wife is seeing behind his back. Hostetler is up for re-election and laments that New York will elect almost anyone, but not a man whose wife is running around. Since this is less a request than a command, Taggart trails Cathleen and discovers her suitor. When he turns over this information to the mayor it sets off a string of unexpected violence.
Perhaps the advertising campaign oversells the twists and turns of Broken City, but I found little mystery not forecast miles out. Hughes and Tucker forget that a successful film noir uses red herrings to mislead the audience and make a future reveal more impactful. Broken City does not offer red herrings as much as random plot points that are never developed or get abandoned entirely as if whole story lines were left on the cutting room floor. At its core, Broken City is about corruption in New York City - within the NYPD, in the mayor's office and elsewhere - and Hostetler's actions don't mirror the "broken city" cleanup he claims as the biggest success of his previous term. His younger, ambitious opponent, Jack Valliant (Pepper), is unimpressed with the veteran politician's spin and makes it his business to take down the bigwig. NYPD Capt. Carl Fairbanks (Wright) also dislikes Hostetler, and the film lazily ties him into the main plot on several planes.
After watching Broken City and taking a step back, I can say with some confidence that the whole thing is pretty dumb. The plot unspools like a cable-television political thriller and only the caliber of the actors gives away the film's theatrical origin. Had Hughes set Broken City in the turbulent days of prohibition the story might have had more impact, but as a modern tale of political woes it falls flat. Despite the numerous logic gaps and the weak script, Broken City is still fairly entertaining. This is classic rent-and-forget-it material, and Wahlberg and Crowe at least seem like they're trying. Broken City again proves that no matter how much you polish the surface, a film without a good script tumbles like a house of cards.
As expected, Broken City looks on Fox's Blu-ray. The 2.40:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is nicely detailed, with excellent texture and clarity. Close-ups reveal intimate facial details, sweat and grit, and wide shots are clear and deep. Black levels are solid, though a bit of digital noise does pop up in a few nighttime scenes. Colors never bleed, skin tones are accurate, and there are no noise-reduction issues to report. A solid transfer for this recent release.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack exhibits sufficient clarity and range. Broken City is a dialogue-heavy film interspersed with a few action scenes, so the track chiefly handles center-channel dialogue. Ambient effects like crowd noise and street sounds trickle into the surround speakers, and the action scenes are supported by solid surround and subwoofer action. Spanish and Italian 5.1 Dolby Digital tracks are also included, as are English SDH, Spanish and Italian subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Fox releases Broken City in "combo pack" format. The two-disc set is packed in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in a slipcover. Alongside the Blu-ray and DVD copy of the film are codes to redeem iTunes-compatible (yay!) and UltraViolet (still not on board) digital copies. Extras include Six Deleted Scenes (8:35/HD) that include a lame alternate ending and Putting It All Together (34:59/HD), a fairly thorough making-of documentary. The documentary (and the packaging) touts the script's former spot on the "black list" of Hollywood development hell, and the filmmakers and cast discuss what it took to get the project made. The interviewees also touch on the characters, location shooting and director Hughes. The disc also includes the film's spoiler-y theatrical trailer (2:19/HD).
If I had to describe Broken City in a word it would be "generic." There's little to distinguish this forgettable film-noir knockoff from a thousand other political and crime thrillers. Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg bring some class to a tale of political corruption and revenge, but Director Allen Hughes is saddled with a weak script. Logic gaps and irrelevant plot detours abound, but Broken City is still entertaining enough for me to suggest that you Rent It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.