Broken City Movie Review

In the end, Broken City is something of a Greek tragedy, and while that’s actually a pretty good fit for director Allen Hughes, the play itself is only mediocre in its delivery, which means it doesn’t quite manage the punch its after. That is not to say that the story itself is lacking exactly, or that the movie doesn’t have several positives going for it, but somewhere in the translation things get a bit bogged down, which leaves you imagining all the ways you wish the movie had delivered.

We enter the film as Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), an NYPD officer, dodges a criminal case brought against him suggesting that he murdered a suspect, being that he allegedly shot him despite the suspect not having a weapon of any kind. A high profile case, and one that has the minority community up in arms, Billy is taken in to meet Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and is told that he’s still going to have to take the fall for the political nightmare this has created.

Seven years later, Billy is working as a P.I. and apparently doing pretty well, except insofar as it’s difficult to get his clients to pay. His wife’s acting career is taking off, and though life isn’t quite easy going, things seem to have settled into normalcy. Well, he may not be in the happiest marriage, but you can’t have everything.

Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and Police Commissioner Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) have a frank discussion with private investigator Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg).

When Billy gets an invitation to again meet with Mayor Hostetler, things get complicated. The Mayor wants his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) followed, because the upcoming election means the mayor can’t afford to have the press jumping on a scandal. This puts Billy in a strange position, but the mayor is paying well, and following cheating spouses is most of what he does anyway. We hit a strange turn when we discover that the mayor’s wife is meeting with the opponent candidate’s campaign manager, which adds further nefarious complications to the affair.

Naturally, and not completely to Billy’s surprise, the campaign manager (Kyle Chandler) turns up dead, and things start really getting serious, not least because you’ve always got to wonder about which loose ends people are willing to leave snooping around.

The action then spins through a more or less standard arc with the clearly corrupt, fairly evil, man in power up against the marginally-disgraced everyman with little ability to effectively combat the powers that be. All of it, given today’s societal woes and teeth-gnashing foci, involves a land deal and corporate giants who want to build skyscrapers at the expense of the homes of the downtrodden.

Billy, armed only with a lovely assistant and the tenacity of a loyal hound, must figure out a way not to become the fall guy (or at least co-conspirator) in a murder, and take down the mayor. Ultimately, and also sticking with the common outline of the genre, Billy has to contend with various past demons visiting him again.

It’s the kind of dance that might, whittled down to its outline, become difficult to distinguish from a Shakespearean play, especially when we consider the moral tapestry we’re attempting to weave, but something gets lost in the translation in this particular effort to modernize the structure of grandiose tragedy. Billy has to break down exactly what’s going, and we are pulled through a variety of conversations intended to develop the characters and the complexities of the connections, but much of it becomes meaningless as we progress (as with the conversations between the doomed campaign manager and his candidate), and none of it offers up any character in the way it thinks it does. Billy comes together to a certain degree, largely because of Wahlberg’s innate charisma, but the mayor doesn’t get beyond twirling his mustache, and nothing sets us up to get the full force of the climatic, tragic move.

For those with a certain pull toward the unraveling of machinations, this is an entertaining effort, and one that displays director Allen Hughes’ talents in a variety of ways, but for what it’s trying to get to in the end, there’s too much motion and not enough meat. By the time we get to the tragedy we don’t really care, and the comeuppance was always a forgone conclusion.


DHD Available Now

The film is available now, ahead of the Blu-Ray release, through digital download from a variety of sources. Check out the dedicated page to find it through your favorite service here –

I caught the film through iTunes myself, and the quality was excellent. Over time, I know people have gotten movies through a variety of download options, and had some complaints about the video quality, but I think these concerns are a thing of the past. Some may still be wary of display on a large screen (it’s one thing to watch something on your phone, and quite another if you have a serious TV), but the HD was excellent here. Depending on your particular needs, there’s nothing like taking it with you, even if you’re committing a lot of space on your iPad or other device. Plus, releasing weeks early on digital is a great sell for fans.




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Marc Eastman
Marc Eastman is the owner and operator of Are You Screening? and has been writing film reviews for over a decade, and several branches of the internet's film review world have seen his name. He is also a member of The Broadcast Film Critics Association and The Broadcast Television Journalists Association.

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