Four billion dollars are set to funnel into the pockets of a financially sinking New York, a property deal with seeds in Wall Street and the fraudulent mayor who commissioned the fix for the city’s woes. In the midst of a shady mayoral campaign, in steps disgraced detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), hired to pick apart the dealing’s of the mayor’s cheating wife. Surface level, the deal is direct, a $50,000 check to soften Taggart’s underwater private investigator firm if he can find details, but the city is – as the title states – broken.
Russell Crowe is Mayor Hostetler, never given a first name as to keep himself propped above the civilian population as a respected figurehead. His ruthless and even reckless ambition are set to take down prime real estate now hosting the projects, a move that could devastate a clean cut political campaign should internal details surface. That is where Taggart can run, reading between lines and siphoning information from those in play. Broken City is busted for more than a schmaltzy political affair.
Unfortunately for Broken City, it languishes with uninteresting plot devices and surefire exposition dumps, racing through its words before stalling within a pace strangling investigation. Catherine Zita-Jones heats it up with fancy nightwear, fur coats, cinematic use of cigarettes, and steely eyes towards her manically egotistical husband. It’s not enough to warrant the time spent with her affair, a slippery plot device at best.
Taggart too is intertwined with a shattered relationship, pushed out of the spotlight of his girlfriend’s rising Hollywood stardom, Natalie (Natalie Martinez) unceremoniously dumped from the script as heat rises on Taggart’s snooping. Broken City will not use her predictably as a beacon of danger when the shots begin to fire, but it is a question of why they used her at all. The same goes for an energizing car chase that falls apart as purposes are smashed under the uselessness of its results.
Pieces fall into place alongside bodies, the film hitting a stride an hour in that peaks interest until the inevitable face-to-face with Taggart/Hostetler that ignites with superb performances. Tension between the warring sides, both unclean in their past, creates a mind game that races the pacing through into the conclusion. This contemporary noir finale is shot in close, battling with words, not guns, in a sequence of political posturing and self-sacrifice that creates a nominal hero.
Broken City has its roots in capitalism, the rush for cash and the outpouring of press and civilian support for the poor, without anyone coming across a clean. Everyone involved is dirty in their own way, sometimes for the best of the on-screen results, and other times dipping into straightforward methodologies. The latter holds minimal interest, and unfortunately, constructs most of Broken City’s runtime.
Amongst the digital camera giants, the Arri Alexa has been a consistent performer, yet Broken City languishes from the outset with sub-par black levels and thus depth. Nighttime elements are soured by muddy, often brown hues that push against the attempt at film noir the piece is aiming for. Most of the film is basked in darkness, so the loss of substantial deep, inky black levels is nigh unforgivable in a piece like this.
Elsewhere, the presentation is hearty. Close-ups are consistently on the mark, with exceptional facial definition and overall sharpness. Fidelity doesn’t need to reach a peak; it’s always there. Some of the city aerials are the only downer, a handful muddier than they likely should be, seemingly tinkered in post for color timing purposes and a step more.
Broken City will prop itself up on orange & teal, zapping the flesh tones with a dose of saturation that leaves them feeling unnaturally warm. Lighting follows the same scheme, usually backed by the familiar chill of blues that dim the noir perspective for something all too modern. It lacks the class and sophistication, making itself whole in familiar post production steps.
Fox will push out an unseen AVC encode, background compression that works overtime to keep itself invisible. Source digital photography is often not as tamed, with fits of noise that hit the image or swirl across faces. Some of Zeta-Jones’ close-ups appear to have been digitally smoothed, the remnant being noise. A shot of Taggart driving across the Brooklyn Bridge as dusk sees the sky bulking up on artifacts too. Broken City is sloppy, but a close visual victory.
DTS-HD can only carry slim audio design so far, and this film is strikingly quiet. On a train with the clacking of the tracks audible, the sound refuses to reach around and submerse the sound field in ambiance. Stubborn design choices keep Broken City up front, only selling the size of the city when it sees fit. Maybe it is a little ironic when a key audio moment takes place inside a theater when characters are watching another movie. The echo and reverb is authentic.
There is one major action scene, a pleasant car chase with ramming vehicles splitting the stereos and engines tracking through the surrounds. LFE perks up with adrenaline as they collide, sufficient in setting the scale.
None of this is blaming the film for its lack of action, so much as it is a lack of energy. People are swarmed by reporters and the surrounds feel held back. There is little attempt to give listeners a sense of place, whether that is street level or at a party.
Slim bonuses here, likely coinciding with low box office receipts. Six deleted scenes include an alternate ending that arguably went too far, yet completed a main character. Putting it Together details the scripting, casting, and shooting in seven parts for 34:59, a sharply done bonus that holds enough information to be satisfying. A handful of trailers are left.