Allen Hughes began film making at the tender age of twelve. However, based on his latest offering, Broken City, he may still have to grow older and wiser to make a telling contribution in earnest.
Hughes has an embarrassment of riches at his disposal in the form of Oscar winners Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones and the formidable Mark Wahlberg, also an Oscar nominee. Therefore, it is contrition that such refined acting talent goes to waste owing to his erratic direction.
Broken City recounts a tale of politics and deception. Wahlberg essays the role of Billy Taggart, a disgraced former New York police officer given a new lease of life as a private investigator by Mayor Hostetler, played by Russell Crowe. The narrative follows Wahlberg’s latest assignment: the precarious task of following the Mayor’s wife, played by Zeta-Jones, who is suspected of having an extramarital affair. Subsequently, Wahlberg’s character is embroiled in a contentious web of manipulation.
Despite the aforementioned abundance of adept actors, Hughes is undone primarily by a convoluted and insipid plot. At first glance, Broken City has all the elements of a refined political thriller. Unfortunately, any such outcome fails to materialise. Zeta-Jones in particular is relegated to the sideline of the script. Furthermore, Hughes’ treatment of the female characters delineates a certain misogynistic perspective as well. While Zeta-Jones’ character is subject to a potential scandal, another scene involving Wahlberg’s love interest is enough to make the viewer writhe in agony.
The director fails miserably to capitalise on a riveting foundation provided by a solid plot and stellar cast. Instead of presenting sensational twists and turns, Broken City treads a predictable path, lacking any captivating moments in the process. The film also bears a striking resemblance to State of Play, an investigative drama also starring Russell Crowe.
Moreover, the film does not represent the gritty and hard hitting political thriller it was set out to be. It may be a thriller by definition but it does not ensure any such stimulating experience for the audience. For example, a specific scene where the final Mayoral debate is held, we are bereft of any palpable pressure which one could associate with such high profile events.
Blame must be apportioned to Hughes for such a debilitated attempt. The lead actors are also guilty of delivering sub-par performances. For instance, Crowe plays the epitome of an archetypal politician: machiavellian and shrewd. However, he does not invoke any aversion or contempt from the spectator.
Additionally, Broken City is devoid of an adequate pacing, thus lacking any flair or flourish. The only saving grace is Alona Tal, Wahlberg’s enthusiastic assistant. Regrettably, her scenes are transient. The cinematographer is worthy of acclaim as well since the film’s aesthetic is one of the few aspects working in its favour. He deftly highlights the prominent skyscrapers of Manhattan.
It is difficult to comprehend that Broken City was lauded by many as one of the best delayed projects in the aftermath of the 2007/2008 Writers’ Strike. Such an assessment is incomprehensible, since the writing is considerably lacklustre and the direction is limp. Above all else, it embodies a missed opportunity to construct a superior film.