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.

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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