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Mark Wahlberg introduces mediocrity into Broken City
The game of good cop/bad cop is a familiar one, having been played countless times by directors in the detective genre. Our protagonist shifts from one side of the law to the other, bringing a question of ethics to the forefront of a film’s consciousness. The Book of Eli director Allen Hughes’ Broken City is hardly a departure from this ho-hum yet satisfying formula, but it muddles the narrative structure by thrusting a complex and intricate corruption drama into the mix for the viewer to digest. Themes of sex and power, good and evil in a corrupt city unfortunately become lost in the shuffle that is an unsustainably convoluted web of stories.
Beginning with a tipping point that drives the rest of the plot, Broken City tells the tale of Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), a New York City cop who was unceremoniously removed from his post due to a hushed-up murder accusation and who now runs his own detective business. Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright) who fired Wahlberg remain in power that teeters on the upcoming mayoral election. Hostetler enlists Taggart in investigating his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), for cheating. Taggart does his job, but doesn’t realize what job he was truly hired to perform and what consequences it brings. This leads him to investigate the true horrors of politics and personal agendas that are part of a murder, a secret land contract, and two-faced politicians, all in pursuit of election.
The promo displays a macho, throw-down, knockout action movie that features an intriguing plot with well-known actors. Instead, Broken City saves the action for its final quarter. While it’s fast-paced, with exciting car chases and hand-to-hand combat, a good movie would not have left all the energy for the ending. Furthermore, the film introduces a variety of sub-plots without sufficiently connecting the dots. Though there is a clear distinction between these stories, the lines drawn to connect them are underdeveloped. On the other hand, the script for many characters, especially Crowe’s, is very well-written, but this upside is overshadowed by the lack of continuity in the plot and by how Crowe executes it.
Unfortunately, the truly commendable performances come from the lesser-known actors such as Wright and Alona Tal, Taggart’s assistant, but these are overlooked by most critics due to the mediocre acting from Wahlberg, Crowe, and Zeta-Jones. Wright is very convincing as a man with his own agenda and selfish motives, almost as much as Crowe in the pursuit of re-election. The police commissioner’s advantage is playing defense with more backing for his goal. At the same time, Tal shows passionate believability as Taggart’s overworked assistant with a true interest in his profession and a lingering concern for him that extends beyond the boundaries of a professional employer-employee relationship.
Wahlberg didn’t fall too far from his magnificent performance in The Fighter, but he didn’t bring it all to the set. His signature Boston accent and rugged features are present on screen as always, but he has a certain wide-eyed look that hardly translates into visible depth of character. Much like the film he is the face of, he adopts a half-hearted approach that doesn’t tap into the story’s full potential.