Theatrical Review: Broken City

NYPD Detective Billy Taggart is on trial for a wrongful shooting. New York City Mayor Nicholas Hostleler and Police Commissioner Carl Fairbanks know that Taggart is guilty due to evidence that has been held back from the trial, though the mayor believes Taggart to be a hero for what he’s done. Taggart is declared not guilty but still gets bounced by the force.

Seven years have passed and now Taggart earns his keep as a Private Investigator mostly on cases of marital infidelity. He’s having problems paying his bills and then one day gets summoned by Mayor Hostleler to come to his office. The mayor, in the midst of a re-elction campaign, wants to hire Taggart to shadow his wife because he believes she’s cheating on him and offers Taggart $50,000 to take the case. Taggart agrees little knowing what he’s about to walk into.

That’s the premise to Broken City the latest film from director Allen Hughes, who’s better known as one half of the directing team The Hughes Brothers (with brother Albert, the two have directed such films as The Book of Eli, From Hell, Dead Presidents and Menace II Society). What Hughes has crafted here is a nice little slow-burn noir-ish detective thriller that I thought was a lot of fun to watch.

Broken City is about way more than what I described in the premise, but it’s not hard to follow at all. In the midst of the main story, we also follow Taggart’s personal life involving his girlfriend Natalie (who’s an actress), his struggle with alcohol, and his day-to-day work life with his assistant Katy. All of this certainly helps to make Broken City a pretty full experience and I tend to think it makes it feel somewhat like a classic detective/noir film of the 40s.

What’s most impressive here though are the performances. Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart and he’s really fun to watch here. He feels totally authentic in the part and it’s particularly satisfying to see his chemistry with actress Alona Tal who plays his assistant Katy. It’s just as pleasing to see the scenes that Wahlberg has with Russell Crowe who plays Mayor Hostleler. To me, this is one of the best performances that I’ve seen from Crowe in awhile. Nicholas Hostleler is a slick and charismatic character and Crowe’s playing it to the hilt.

There’s lot’s of good support here as well, Catherine Zeta-Jones plays the mayor’s wife who’s got way more going on than a case of infidelity, and she just looks fantastic. Barry Pepper plays Jack Valiant, a councilman who’s running against Hostleler for mayor, and it’s certainly solid and committed work from Pepper. Most pleasing to me in the support category though are the performances from Jeffrey Wright as Commissioner Fairbanks and Kyle Chandler as Valiant’s campaign manager, Paul Andrews. Their parts feel very “lived-in” and they command as much attention on-screen as the leads do.

I thought Broken City was just terrific. It is a slow-burning film, but it never feels boring and there’s always something there to keep your attention. Hughes’ direction and storytelling is right on point and I love that, at least to me, this does harken back to classic noir thrillers of the past. All of the performances are first rate and certainly drive the film. Broken City was quite a little surprise for me, I wasn’t expecting to be as drawn into this movie as I got. Very much recommended.


Theatrical Review: Zero Dark Thirty

Director Kathryn Bigelow won an Oscar for her skills with her last film The Hurt Locker which also won an Oscar for Best Picture and deservedly so. so how does she choose to follow that up? With nothing less than the hunt and trackdown of Osama Bin Laden himself…

Zero Dark Thirty tells the story of the hunt for Osama Bin Laden as seen through the eyes of a CIA operative named here as Maya. It covers a period of nearly ten years (from the tragedy of 9/11 to finding Bin Laden and while I’m sure certain events are compressed or altered, this still feels extremely authentic. This isn’t exactly as emotionally effective a film as The Hurt Locker was, Zero Dark Thirty is way more clinical and procedural, but it’s still very impressive and certainly worthy of it’s Oscar nomination.

While I described the film as being more on the procedural side, it still has it’s emotional moments- chief among them being a scene between Maya and a CIA chief With Maya making certain demands. This is a really terrific scene between actors Jessica Chastain and Kyle Chandler and it’s dramatics are way more real than theatrical. I saw this scene and though Chastain’s performance here is stellar all around, to me this had to be the scene that cinched the Oscar nomination for her.

I think the whole movie is compelling viewing, but where it really got to me was watching the actual operation go down in the end when Seal Team 6 takes out Bin Laden. This isn’t shown in a typical Hollywood theatrical manner, and as such, I think it makes the scene even more tense.

One of the criticisms that I’ve read about Zero Dark Thirty elsewhere (which I don’t share), is that there was a “lack of character development.” Zero Dark Thirty isn’t that kind of movie at all, there aren’t huge character arcs here where people go on self-discovery or learn tremendous lessons in the end. This is about a group of dedicated, highly competent professionals doing their duty for their country. Bigelow’s approach is indeed more matter-of-fact with this, and the film does have character moments, but they’re just not the focus. Obviously much has been said as well about the torture scenes at the start of the film and how the film is “an endorsement of torture” which just isn’t the case at all, though I guess the argument can be made that just by showing it, they’re endorsing it. I don’t exactly subscribe to that and think this talk of boycotting the film for Oscar consideration because of that is ridiculous.

Already, we do know that Zero Dark Thirty has been nominated for an Oscar and it’s certainly worthy of that nomination. Will it win? I tend to think that’s doubtful. It is a terrific film, no doubt about that, but I don’t necessarily think it’s as effective as say The Hurt Locker was at getting it’s audience as involved. It’s a more passive experience, but certainly still effective and highly recommended.