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Broken City Can't be Fixed

<i>Broken City</i> Can't be Fixed

DVD Release Date: April 30, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: January 18, 2013
Rating: Rated R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence
Genre:  Crime, Drama, Thriller
Run Time:  109 minutes
Director:  Allen Hughes
Cast:  Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler

Another year, another drama where Mark Wahlberg gets to act tough. This time around he’s Billy Taggart, an ex-cop turned private eye. Billy’s struggling financially (collections are not his strong suit) until an old friend calls. Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe, Les Misérables) needs a favor and it’s an offer Billy can’t refuse—not in his financial situation, and not with their shared history. It seems the Mayor thinks his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rock of Ages) is having an affair and with the election on the line His Honor needs to know the name of the other man before the press gets wind of it.

Under the circumstances it seems a fairly reasonable request, but the First Lady of NYC may be hiding more than an illicit love affair. The Mayor claims his actions are for the good of the people, but it may well be the only “people” he cares about is the one in the mirror. In this city nothing and no one is quite what they seem. As Jeffrey Wright, who plays Police Commissioner Fairbanks, said, it’s "a kind of contemporary Humphrey Bogart story, taking place against a backdrop of treachery and intrigue where everyone is ambitious in one way or another."

Wahlberg, who also produced the film, may not be Humphrey Bogart but he gives a serviceable performance as Billy, the man who may lose everything on his road to redemption. He occasionally manages to speak volumes with the lift of an eyebrow, he acquits himself well in multiple violent fight scenes, and he’s believable—if not particularly exciting—as our erstwhile hero.

Russell Crowe disappears into the fake-tanned, plastic-haired, smile-while-he-stabs-you-in-the-back Mayor Hostetler. He’s the sort of politician you hope isn’t realistic but fear is typical—and even when you’re sure he’s bad to the bone he almost wins you over during the candidate’s debate. Maybe he thinks he’s on the side of the angels, maybe not… but in this broken city the lines between good men and bad are mighty blurry.

Billy’s assistant, Katie, (Alona Tal) is that staple of the hard-boiled detective story, the wisecracking, loyal secretary with an acid tongue and a heart of gold. Sure, she’s a stereotype, but Katie gets some of the best lines and Tal delivers them with style. Zeta-Jones plays the mayor’s long-suffering wife with a finely-controlled tension that suits the part, but it would have been nice if she’d had more to do. At least she gets to spend one scene in the most beautiful dress seen on screen in recent memory.

The MPAA rating mentions “pervasive language” and they certainly got that right. The f-bomb is dropped with such regularity the writer must have had it programmed on a shortcut key. It’s obvious the characters are hard-nosed bad guys; there was no need to belabor the point with that much profanity. It’s one of several areas where it seemed the film seemed to be trying too hard to be edgy. Another was a gratuitous sex scene Billy reluctantly watches in a movie; the point of the scene would have been better illustrated by watching his expressions rather than showing so much naked, heaving flesh. Then there were the random "artsy" shots where we see the action through a screen or a window… not bad in and of themselves, but out of character with the rest of the film.

The plot line involving Billy’s relationship with his girlfriend, Natalie (Natalie Martinez) had promise, but she inexplicably dropped out of sight halfway through the movie. Yes, they had a fight (not really a spoiler since what couple doesn’t?) but the situation is never resolved, and after one bad night Mr. Tough Guy Taggart grimly goes about his task apparently unaffected by the crisis with the woman he supposedly loved. Why bother wasting all that screen time on Natalie if she wasn’t going to contribute to character development?

On the whole, the story is a solid political crime drama, one of those twisty-turny plots that zips along fast enough to keep your attention from wandering. The writing is occasionally brilliant—I especially liked the police commissioner’s final comment to the mayor, a quiet zinger that had the audience whooping with laughter. And yet, the sum of its parts is more OK than extraordinary. While it was enjoyable enough, the whole thing had a bit of a ‘been there, done that’ feel. It’s…fine. Not great. Not awful. Just fine.


  • Drugs/Alcohol: Someone is drinking in almost every scene, generally Scotch. One character has been sober for seven years, but falls off the wagon (hard) and the ensuing scene chronicles his descent into drunkenness quite nicely.
  • Language/Profanity: Language is a big reason this film was rated R; a charitable person would call the dialogue “colorful.” Almost every conversation included the f-word. God’s name was taken in vain in various combinations, bi***, sh** (occasionally described as “holy”), a**hole, references to male and female anatomy (di**, pu**y). In addition, one character manages to insult pretty much every major group: women, Jews, Catholics, homosexuals, metrosexuals, possibly a few more.
  • Violence: Quite a bit, but remarkably little blood. Shootings, murders, multiple violent fist fights, car chases and crashes, breaking and entering, man’s head shoved underwater, and a particularly vicious blow to the head that may have been fatal.
  • Sex/Nudity: Billy is a private investigator working divorce cases, so we see him photograph a couple having sex; kissing and caressing are shown. Discussion of a brutal rape and murder (thankfully not depicted). The characters go to a movie which contains a pretty explicit sex scene that includes female nudity. One character uses the term “borderline orgasmic” (but not about sex). There is talk of an extramarital affair. Man gets in bathtub, but nothing untoward is shown. Several major characters are homosexual; one obviously effeminate. References to “taking the metrosexual thing too far” and a romantic relationship between two men.
  • Spiritual Themes: The underlying theme is what happens when people take justice into their own hands, even when they feel right is on their side. Power corrupts and in this case, it corrupts absolutely. Guilt, revenge, and confession are all part of the plot. In the end, the question is whether Billy will do the right thing, no matter the cost to himself. (The answer to that question would be a spoiler, so you won’t find it here.)

Publication date: January 18, 2013