It isn’t NYC that needs repair in ‘Broken City’ – it’s the script

Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg and Jeffrey Wright in the mayor's office in a scene from 'Broken City'
Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg and Jeffrey Wright in the mayor’s office in a scene from ‘Broken City’

For nearly ten years now there is a “black list” published annually in Hollywood.  It supposedly contains the best “unproduced” scripts out there.  Broken City was on this list for several years until it finally escaped from “development hell” … but perhaps it should have been left there.

Broken City is a story that is so formulaic it belongs on a chalkboard in a chemistry class rather than on the big screen.

Russell Crowe is “Nicholas ‘Nicky’ Hostetler”, the mayor of New York City.  When the film opens, NYPD detective “Billy Taggart” (Mark Wahlberg) is in the aftermath of a shooting he was involved in.  New evidence comes to light just before the judge is about to rule that there isn’t a case to be made against him, but the Mayor and “Chief Carl Fairbanks” (Jeffrey Wright) of the NYPD decide this evidence isn’t going to see the light of day.  Taggart’s days as a cop are over.  His crime was shooting the man who avoided prosecution for raping and killing a woman on a technicality.

Catherine Zeta-Jones stars in 'Broken City'
Catherine Zeta-Jones stars in ‘Broken City’

Seven years later, Taggart is a struggling private investigator and living with his girlfriend “Natalie Barrow” (Natalie Martinez), who happens to be the sister of the victim of the aforementioned rape/murder.

Suddenly there’s a call from the mayor, shortly before an election in which he and his opponent, City Councilman “Jack Valliant” (Barry Pepper) are running neck and neck.  He wants to pay Taggart $50,000 to find out who his wife, “Cathleen” (Catherine Zeta-Jones), is having an affair with.  Half now and half later.  Taggart manages to get photos of Cathleen with Valliant’s campaign manager.  He is approached by Cathleen, who tells him there is more going on here than meets the eye, but the Mayor demands the photos he’s paid for.

In short order, the campaign manager is murdered.

Director Allen Hughes is flying solo here, not co-directing with his brother Albert and we’ll never know if Albert’s absence is where this film went wrong.  It probably isn’t.  The problems here were on the written page and merely compounded by focusing on shots of the NYC skyline rather than on fleshing out weak plot elements.  The storyline involving Taggart and his girlfriend is clearly the worst of those.  Perhaps parts of it are still lying on the floor in the cutting room, waiting to be inserted back in for clarity.

This is an excellent cast.  Crowe and Zeta-Jones are both Oscar winners, Wahlberg has been nominated for an Oscar and other members of the film’s players are all talented people.  There’s just not a whole lot for them to do.  Jeffrey Wright has some good moments as a police chief and later, police commissioner.  Crowe, Wahlberg and Zeta-Jones are all limited by how their characters were created but they are clearly doing their best.

Formula is great to feed a baby when nursing isn’t the choice.  But unless it’s really well executed, it has no business being on the big screen.

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