Movie Review: Broken City is modern noir in NYC
It used to be that pretty much every movie took place in New York City. The dark and wild atmosphere of the city was the backdrop for everything from action to comedy and sci-fi. If you’re looking to set a tone in a film, New York City did a lot of the work for you. These days a movie is either set somewhere else, or it doesn’t really take advantage of the NYC backdrop. In that respect, Broken City is a nostalgic return.
It’s also decidedly modern. Broken City deals in political greed, scandals, infidelity, gentrification, and police brutality. That it tackles the vast majority of those topics without feeling like a lame attempt to summarize every major NYC headline in the last few years is a small miracle. Centered around this whole mess is Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-cop turned private eye. If that doesn’t sound like a recipe for a crooked city noir tale, I don’t know what is.
Broken City isn’t exactly dealing in original storytelling, but what it has to offer is solid and entertaining throughout. We’ve seen private eyes dig up dirt before, but Wahlberg and Russell Crowe bring a lot of bravado to the table and the plot is just complex enough to keep things interesting.
When Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) calls upon Billy to do a little investigating into his wife’s infidelity, you know things won’t be so straightforward. Broken City wears its name on its sleeve, and for every twist in the plot, it only gets darker and more corrupt. Billy, caught in the middle of it all, isn’t a saint himself, but his brashness is endearing. His “best quality,” as the mayor puts it.
If there’s anything wrong, it’s that Broken City has a tendency to drift in some dumb directions here and there. Brief moments sprinkled throughout the film cause it to stagger on the fine line of quality entertainment it’s balancing on. Billy’s girlfriend seems perfectly happy with him until the script demands change, then suddenly it’s all soap opera dramatics for the sake of piling a little extra hurt on the main character. That’s just one example, but a few other lazy slips throughout make you wish the film treated its audience with a bit more respect. We aren’t dumb, and most of the movie seems aware of this, yet these moments distract.
Regardless, Broken City also gets a whole lot right. The twisting plot is engaging, it has a lot of momentum, and sometimes it’s nice to just watch something that keeps the plot moving along. The atmosphere of the city is a part of the movie, and its captured in a way that it hasn’t been lately. And for as lame as the unnecessary drama with his girlfriend is, Billy’s assistant Katy (Alona Tal) is a pretty awesome replacement. If this were a TV show, she’d probably get her own Veronica Mars-esque spin-off.
Many have billed the month of January as a bit of a dumping ground for Hollywood. In that respect (Zero Dark Thirty’s wide release notwithstanding), Broken City is an example of "one man’s trash." More exciting than The Last Stand, funnier than A Haunted House, and a better noir than Gangster Squad, Broken City isn’t a knockout, but it’s still pretty damn good.