New York is the quintessential film city. It’s iconic skyline, famous architecture and yellow taxicabs make for sometimes stunning, but always-functional backdrops for film narratives. Also, its film-friendly economic policies make it relatively easy (and cheap) for filmmakers to close streets, hire vehicles, to commandeer subway stations. As such, many films have used the city and it’s infrastructure, power structures and people as a focus for their stories. Broken City falls very much into this category.
Broken City tells the story of the incumbent New York mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) in election season, fighting for a new term in office. He hires Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-cop turned private detective to spy on his wife (played by Catherine Zeta-Jones), who he suspects is having an affair. Hostetler’s suspicious are confirmed (or so it seems) when Taggart spies Hostetler’s wife cavorting with Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), who turns out to be the campaign manager for Hostetler’s mayoral opponent. Messy stuff. Indeed it gets even messier when Andrews is later found murdered in cold blood, and Taggart seemingly framed for his murder. What ensues is a conspiratorial messy web of dodgy policeman, corrupt politicians and large real estate development companies vying for the latest slice of Manhattan’s lucrative gentrification development.
One of Broken City‘s main threads that attempts to hold the multiple characters of the film together is a low-income city ˜ghetto’ (or ˜project’ to use the American vernacular), the target of the redevelopment company who want to tear it down and turn it into high-rise skyscrapers. The area houses a Puerto Rican family, the daughter of which Taggart is dating. It transpires that during Taggart’s time as a cop, he delivered justice for the family by killing the rapist and murderer of the other daughter. As one would suspect of such a film (especially one with Allen Hughes, the champion of urban, community-focused New York, in the director’s chair), the evil corruption and capitalist powers are stereotypically defenestrated in favour of community, urban life.
Given that the film attempts to display the complicated and complex ˜messiness’ of New York’s power structures and social struggles, it could be perhaps intentional that the film is a confusing mess in and of itself. Either way, it doesn’t work. If the complicated relationships and corporate shenanigans are supposed to be represented by the confusing narrative then it is done badly. However, if the incomprehensibility of the film is down to shoddy filmmaking then that’s even worse. I suspect, unfortunately it is the latter.
The plot doesn’t make any sense. Characters are thrown into the mix and key protagonists are talked about with very little in the way of character development (if at all). Key processes and motivations in the film are not explained, and you are left wondering whom they are talking about all the time because of this (Wait, who’s that they’re talking about? Is it the dodgy cop? The opponent? Oh I give up). The justification for some people’s behaviour is poorly explained and the conclusion leaves you scratching your head as to what actually happened to get to this point. More than this (and of particular annoyance, the audio track was awful. This may well be the fault of the cinema (in which case I apologise for the following), but the voices were mumbled, the ambient soundscapes were too loud to make out key dialogue, and in some cases the re-dubbing of the voices was painfully obvious. One particular scene where Catherine Zeta-Jones as the mayor’s wife speaks to Taggart, the lip-sync was way out and the tone of voice did not match up at all to the situation “ it was bordering on parody.
There is a good film here (probably), but it struggles to get out, if at all, as it gets entangled in the complicated plot lines, confusing characters and down right messiness.