For about the first forty minutes, I was intrigued by 'Broken City.' Sure, it's the same dirty politics thriller that we've seen time and again, but for some reason I was somewhat invested in what was going on.
The movie opens startlingly enough. A bearded, frazzled cop named Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) stands over the lifeless body of a young man he's just killed. We instantly know something isn't right. Another cop comes into the frame with a surprised look and takes Taggart's gun. Taggart has a look on his face that says, "This is exactly what I came here to do."
While it feels like the opening to an episode of 'Law & Order' I couldn't help but wonder about the circumstances that led up to the fateful shooting. Soon the city of New York is plunged into a high-profile case. Taggart faces charges, and possibly an entire trial on his involvement in the shooting. But, like many cops who appear guilty, Taggart skirts the charges. Although, after his acquittal he's asked to resign from the force by the city's powerful leader, Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe). Taggart spends the next seven years piecing together crappy private eye work.
There's no denying that 'Broken City' follows a familiar formula. Taggart's private investigation business isn't doing well, so when Mayor Hostetler offers him 50 grand to find out if his wife is cheating, Taggart jumps on the case. It's got to be one of those "You'd be a fool not to accept this," kind of offers.
The wife, Cathleen Hostetler, is played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. About the time she enters the picture I lost most of the interest I had. Zeta-Jones takes all the fun out of the movie. Wahlberg is playing his macho tough guy with a soft spot role. Crowe is dreadfully and delightfully over the top as a crooked politician (although the part is played better by Kelsey Grammar in 'Boss'). Zeta-Jones, plays her part with a gruff whisper that's supposed to create an air of mystique, but only garnered groans here. If Crowe is overacting, Zeta-Jones is in an entirely different realm. Obviously laying it on thick, her character is needlessly cryptic. She's the character that holds the entire plot in her hand, and when she can do something about it, she chooses to speak in riddles and ambiguities. It doesn't help matters that the screenplay is engineered in such a way that it purposefully tries to mislead the audience simply so it can double back on itself in the end.
The movie doesn't lack talent, which is why it's still watchable. Besides the big stars, the supporting cast is pretty impressive. Jeffery Wright plays a shadowy police detective; Barry Pepper takes on the part of Jack Valliant, the man running against Hostetler in the coming elections; and Kyle Chandler plays his campaign chief. It's a pretty stacked cast, so no matter how mundane the material gets they're able to bring it up to a somewhat decent level.
Problems soon arise though. The screenplay is too disjointed – there's a subplot involving Taggart's burgeoning actress girlfriend that could've been completely cut from the movie. It takes far too many liberties as convenient coincidences continue to pile up. It treats its hero like any other two-bit detective hero and doesn't provide any characteristic to make him stand out from the crowd.
'Broken City' reminded me of the slew of political thrillers that came out in the late '90s. Lazy ways to spend a couple hours, but easily forgotten.
Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Released by 20th Century Fox, 'Broken City comes in a Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy Combo Pack. It's a 2-disc set. The Blu-ray is 50GBs, and the other disc contains the DVD Copy and the Digital Copy, which is of the UltraViolet variety. It comes with a slipcover and is marked by Fox as being Region A locked.
There's nothing outwardly wrong with the video transfer of 'Broken City.' It's a perfectly acceptable high-def transfer. It does have more of a digital sheen (it was shot on HD cameras) than I personally like. It doesn't have that filmic look most of us crave, but it looks good nonetheless.
Even though it's shot digitally, blacks appear dark and never seem to go flat. Shadows keep well delineated. Crushing is kept at a minimum. A few moments of noise exist in some of the darker scenes. Fine detail is optimal during close-ups. All the usual suspects are on display. Everything from pores to fine age lines are perfectly seen throughout the film. Notice the texture of a sweater that Kyle Chandler wears while he and Wahlberg travel out to the country by rail. The woven texture is extremely lifelike.
Colors are bold, although the movie itself tends toward the tired blue/yellow visual aesthetic. The aerial shots of New York and its surrounding bridges are pretty amazing to look at. Artifacts like banding, blocking, or aliasing are kept at bay. In the end it's a perfectly satisfying transfer. It may not pull out the wow factor as much as other movies, but it's solid.
Fox's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless mix is more than adequate at presenting the sound mix for this film. Like the visuals, there aren't many instances where your ears will perk up with surprise. Instead, you're treated to a well-rounded thriller mix that does everything well.
There is one sequence that comes close to pushing this mix to the next level. Wahlberg is being chased by an assassin. It's a standard car chase, but the rear channels pick up a lot of the action, especially the blasts of the bullets being shot from behind Wahlberg's car. Windshields explode, metal crunches, and the mix holds up nicely under the pressure. The sub even gets in on the action, providing some great crashing bass for the action scenes and deep rolling bass for the melancholy noir soundtrack. Another scene, where a couple characters play racquetball, offers some great echoing effects that bounce around the soundfield flawlessly.
Dialogue is pretty clear. There are a few moments where Zeta-Jones' oh-so-dramatic whispers are muddled. Crowe doesn't help matters, delivering every line like a growling pit bull. The mix has a somewhat difficult time making them as clear as everyone else.
'Broken City' had potential. Perhaps if it had focused more on making a dark and dreary private eye movie instead of resorting to the same old political thriller tricks we're all used to, it would've been something worth spending time with. As it is, it provides a distraction for a couple of hours and that's about it. The audio and video are solid. I can only recommend a rental here.