Allen Hughes’ political thriller starts with an interesting enough shot. An especially hirsute Mark Wahlberg (read troubled) is holding a gun – a smoking gun no less. At his feet is the body of a young man. As he pulls his shield out from behind his bullet proof vest his partner arrives, obviously querying his actions.
Cut to a court scene. The angry masses are assembled outside chanting for justice as the state tries to push for a murder trial. Mark Wahlberg gets off. Of course he does, or there wouldn’t be much of a film. There wouldn’t be anything for smug, creepy mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) to hold over his head at a later date and there wouldn’t be the rather loose connection between Wahlberg’s Billy and the housing estate that this smug mayor wants to sell off to clear New York’s debt. But the film itself doesn’t get off so lightly.
The first thing you notice is the script. It is a strange concoction of cliché, confusion and slap-you-in-the-face ridiculousness, which you wouldn’t necessarily expect considering it landed on 2008’s ‘black list’. With beauties such as “what the god damn hell…?” and “we need to remain unfucked” the film clearly wants to come across as a hardboiled thriller but even decent lines are rendered impotent when the delivery is repeatedly so off-target. So many performances are phoned in you wonder what their bill must have set them back. Catherine Zeta-Jones barely makes a dent with her minimal screen time and Jeffrey Wright looks from the moment his chief of police enters the room as if he knows exactly what he’s got himself into and he can’t even be bothered to try and dig himself out of it.
Crowe and Wahlberg can, and it does appear at times that they are doing their level best but the script sabotages them at every turn and they resort to such basic character stereotypes and face-pulling that you could forget the interesting and varied careers that both have forged for themselves over the last 15 years. In a film so badly served Barry Pepper comes out of it reasonably well as Hostetler’s current opposition but the conviction prize definitely goes to the new guy’s campaign manager, Kyle Chandler, who succeeds in not only looking like he cares but sounding it too.
Some (few) films can be forgiven for spouting drivel if they deliver in other areas but, sadly for Broken City, the plot itself is so benign there is not much to save it. Characters are so thinly drawn that it is tough for the audience to take them to heart (possibly another reason why Crowe has decided to telegraph his baddy so clearly by choosing the pantomime school of villainy for his pre-film preparations) and any attempts at plot twists are weak.
All in all, Broken City is exactly the kind of film that should be released immediately following the biggest night of Hollywood’s year. Say what you might about Oscar voters’ choices but there is genuine technical skill on display when those awards are handed out and films like Broken City exist to prove that not everyone can deliver – not even those that have previously reached such golden heights.
BROKEN CITY is released in UK cinemas on March 1st 2013