Broken City (2013) - Can't Stop the Movies
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Broken City (2013)

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That kind of hardboiledAndrew DISLIKE BannerA private eye is looking for a big score to pull him out of the squalor he's made of his life.  He was cleared of a murder conviction after a technicality made sure he got off scot-free.  Standing in the shadows, a mayor with connections to local real estate developments makes sure to bring him into his office.  "If you change your phone number," says the mayor, "You make sure you let my office know."  Years later the PI gets a call, the mayor's on the ringer, and has a case for the schlub tailing the mayor's potentially unfaithful wife.

Did you get the feeling of déjà vu going through the description of Broken City?  Because aside from a timely election that throws off the PI's investigation this film has been made time and again.  Sure, a great film is made from recognizable elements but I can think of at least three other films where Mark Wahlberg could be just another down on his luck PI and Russell Crowe the man behind the scenes.  It even has Catherine Zeta-Jones dolled-up to the point where if they changed her white dress for a red the noir bingo card would be complete several times over.

I am really tired of seeing Russell Crowe make this expression.

I am really tired of seeing Russell Crowe make this expression.

Broken City is a dull film hitting all the predictable beats of a business-based noir long seemingly perfected by Chinatown almost forty years ago.  In case you had any lingering ambiguity - because this film won't leave you with any - Wahlberg plays the former cop, Billy, hired by Crowe's mayor, Nicholas, to tail his wife Zeta-Jones, Cathleen.  The usual suspicions of marital impropriety are in full-effect and become more problematic when Cathleen is seen with the campaign manager (a blink and you'll miss him Kyle Chandler) of his opponent played by Barry Pepper.

Tell me, if you were handed a screenplay that said the upstart and not-yet-corrupted political opponent's name was Jack Valliant would you laugh or send it back for a rewrite?  For the many tired plot-building that Broken City trudges out to display and then quietly shuffle away there is no getting away from the name of Jack Valliant.  Much like characters with funny names outside a Marx Brothers movie are rarely ever funny a sure-fire way to destroy whatever drama built is by naming a character after their most well-known trait.  If it seems like I'm harping on this point it's because the film will take care to remind you many times that this politician's name is Valliant, yet no one decides to point out how weirdly proper that is.

It's really just the most glaring example of a screenplay that started off with inspiration from noirs of the past and does nothing to twist the formula.  Heck, if all the characters were named after their traits like Mister Valliant it would save us the time of having to watch all the plot threads get painfully thrown together.  In addition to the master plot involving the election and Cathleen, there's his tenuous relationship with his partner (Alona Tal), another contentious thread from a friend on the force (Jeffrey Wright), and his erratically presented romance with an actress who is now starring in independent films.

And here, Catherine Zeta-Jones is presented with many opportunities to stretch her talent by looking kind of worried.

And here, Catherine Zeta-Jones is presented with many opportunities to stretch her talent by looking kind of worried.

That's a lot for any movie to tackle and Broken City barely has an hour and a half to burn through all the moments.  The worst is by far the storyline with his girlfriend.  In another stunning lack of self-reflection on behalf of the screenwriter, she is kept completely separate from everything else that happens in the film and stars in the terrible film within the film Kiss of Life.  If the film was played beyond it's very self-serious level they might have had some fun with how absolutely terrible Kiss is, but instead it's another excuse for Billy to get angry and then be sad.

There's just too much here and none of it played with wit or interest.  What surprises me is that the screenplay, written by Brian Tucker, was on the Hollywood blacklist of best unproduced screenplays.  Less surprising is that it first appeared on that list in 2008 so it's unknown how many times it was passed around before it landed in the usually capable hands of director Allen Hughes.  Allen, known for the stylish films he's made with his twin brother Albert, doesn't even seem to be up for his usual level of energy.

I'm bored with these elements.  I don't want Zeta-Jones in seductive yet innocent mode, Wahlberg staring gloomily off-camera, or Crowe glowering for what feels like the tenth film in a row.  This is just one thread dangled right in front of the other, until the entire film unspools itself into a dead-zone of effort.

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Broken City - TailBroken City (2013)

Directed by Allen Hughes.
Screenplay written by Brian Tucker.
Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and Jeffrey Wright.

Posted by Andrew

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