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'Broken City' film review: A not-so-perfect tale

Jan 19, 2013, IANS: 14:04 IST
Film: "Broken City"; Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler, Natalie Martinez, Jeffrey Wright and Alona Tal; Directed By: Allen Hughes; Rating: **

The tale of "Broken City" is nothing new. It gives you broken images of a complex city - its people and politics through the multi-layered grey characters of its citizens.

The story is about Mayor Nicholas Hostetler's (Russell Crowe) re-election bid and an ex-cop, Billy Taggart's (Mark Wahlberg) quest for redemption.

In New York City, Billy is a sincere cop who guns down a suspected murderer and rapist. He is then forced to resign from the force and take a job as a private investigator.

Seven years later, Billy is barely getting by as a private investigator, the Mayor contacts him to do a little job. The Mayor suspects his wife, Cathleen Hostetler (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of having an affair. He is curious to know who she's dating, especially since it is time for the polls. Hostetler indignantly states, "No one would re-elect a Mayor, when they know someone else is screwing his wife."

After a bit of snooping, Billy concludes that Cathleen's lover is none other than Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), campaign manager for Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), a city councilman hoping to unseat Hostetler in the upcoming mayoral race. Naturally, this revelation is far too juicy and preposterous to be the whole story, and Billy turns out to be the mayor's unwitting pawn in a vast, painful conspiracy centered around a multibillion-dollar deal to level a public housing project.

What follows is a messy round of back-stabbings, double-crosses and media manipulations. Still, even when the script merely skims the surface of the items of the political agenda, its crisp dialogues often show a measure of rhetorical force, particularly in a fiery, over-the-top debate between Jack and Nicholas.

Wahlberg, who has also co-produced the film, plays his part within his comfort zone with practiced determination. Rattling off streams of cynical, condescending words, Crowe is amusingly loquacious as the megalomaniacal Mayor, sure of himself. He would have been entirely convincing had the film been set in another era.

Zeta-Jones, with her hair-do and get-up, seems to emulate Jacqueline Kennedy. She, along with Wright, Chandler and Pepper are effective enough in roles that don't require them to do much more than exemplify a certain type.

Of the ensemble's lesser-known names, Alona Tal as Billy's Girl Friday and Natalie Martinez as Billy's aspiring-actress wife leave a fairly modest impression behind.
Director Allen Hughes achieves a reasonable visual facsimile of its intended setting, ably captured in Ben Seresin's cinematography and Tom Duffield's sometimes pretty, sometimes gritty production design. Other tech elements are pro.

Unfortunately, it is Brian Tucker's script that seems to have just missed its moment. His narrative is fine, but doesn't have enough sparkle to really stick out. It offers a rather too slick and dramatically tidy peek inside the corridors of power, but not evocative enough or unique enough to register as anything other than a couple of hours of what we know as "time-pass".

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