While most politicians would be focused on winning the election and making donors happy, Hostetler is concerned with his wife’s possible extramarital affair?
Each year, The Black List compiles the best unproduced screenplays floating around the industry in an effort to showcase their appeal and boost their visibility among studio executives. Some of the scripts end up being made into incredible films (Argo); some end up becoming mind-numbing drivel (Cop Out). Written by first-time screenwriter Brian Tucker, Broken City was selected as a part of the 2008 list, even though its characters are so generically drawn that it’s impossible to take them seriously and the plot is more predictable than a Harlem Globetrotters game.
The film is set during a heated New York City mayoral election in which an idealist left-winger, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), is trying to usurp business-friendly incumbent, Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe). Just days before the election, Hostetler hires former cop-turned-private eye Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) to spy on his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom he suspects of adultery. While most politicians would be focused on winning the election and making donors happy, Hostetler is concerned with his wife’s possible extramarital affair? Billy, of course, thinks nothing of it and begins tailing the first lady.
We know from the film’s opening scenes that Billy has a sordid past as a police officer, and not the sharpest decision-making skills. Seven years later, here he is making bad decisions again, despite plenty of evidence that Hostetler is setting him up. Billy also gets plenty of warnings about Hostetler from Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright), who is so ridiculously secretive that he may not know anything at all. At one point, Billy asks, “Doesn’t anyone in this city speak in complete sentences?” It’s a funny line, but it also serves to point out Tucker’s failure as a screenwriter: Lack of information does not equal mystery.
Director Allen Hughes is best known for being one half of the Hughes Brothers (From Hell, Menace II Society). The men have done some admirable work together, but alone, he seems lost, never finding his own style or language. He fills the movie with wide-angle shots of New York, but for no real reason. Though he may know the city well, he consistently sets the action in some of the most overused locations in Manhattan. Save a few excursions to Brooklyn, the movie is as visually stunted as the screenplay is dull.
Mark Wahlberg plays Mark Wahlberg because, well, that’s what he can do. He has a magnetic personality that we want to watch, but his acting range barely stretches beyond looking confused and slamming a guy’s head into a desk/wall/windshield. Russell Crowe’s career has been taking a horrific nosedive in recent years and it’s becoming almost too sad to watch. As the corrupt mayor, Crowe overacts so much that one would think he was trying to draw comparisons to Nicolas Cage. Catherine Zeta-Jones doesn’t even bother showing up, instead just replaying the performances from her last half dozen films.
Hughes and Tucker attempt to make the movie pertinent by injecting issues that were raised in last year’s presidential race. While the labels “Democrat” and “Republican” are never used, Tucker’s dialogue is so heavy-handed that it’s clear Hostetler is the Romney stand-in with Valliant (seriously, his name is Valliant) as the Obama character. The words “subtlety” and “tact” are clearly absent from Tucker’s vocabulary, so the two men pretty much just repeat what we heard over and over again throughout the election. That doesn’t make the script or the movie more pertinent or insightful; it’s just a sign of lazy writing and lack of imagination. | Matthew Newlin