There is a scene in BROKEN CITY that serves as the perfect metaphor for the entire film. In it, corrupt New York Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe), and Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg), an ex-cop, are having an informal meeting to discuss the former hiring the latter to tail his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom he suspects of having an affair. The camera circles the two as they sit across from each other in the mayors elegantly appointed office. It dives and climbs in slow perambulations around the two in pointless, if showy, ostentation. It looks stylish, but adds nothing to the scene, and, in fact, detracts from it by pulling the audience out of the moment to wonder why the camera is so dogged in its hovering orbit. And why an actual dog, who is there to afford Hostetler the opportunity to introduce a simile, is also circling the room, though not synchronously.
Thus unfolds the complicated plot of BROKEN CITY, in dogged circles that add nothing to the story, but do allow for some ostentatious melodrama as the requisite twists pop up with regularity that eventually becomes tiresome. In the classic noir style, no one is what they seem, and Billy, a tough guy with a soft heart, never sees any of the double-crosses coming his way. The femme fatale, the wisecracking secretary of a sidekick, the wholesome girlfriend, the crusading reformer, the glad-handing corrupt politician, the powerful businessmen who are the power behind the throne, they ring true to the genre, as does the moody lighting, the contrast between the posh digs of the rich and the grubbiness of the working poor, and Zeta-Jones spectacular wardrobe, but there are also unfathomable lapses of memory and logic, irksome audio clips of phone messages desperate the stitch the action together, and a dauntingly egregious use of Mozarts Dies Irae, coupled with a general sense that if just one person would have a face-to-face with another, that would be almost any two random people in the film, the action could be wrapped up in about 10 minutes. But then, we wouldnt have the chase scene, we wouldnt have Crowe go goggle-eyed with fury, Zeta-Jones sit in an empty room weeping careless tears, or see Wahlberg in a series of brutal beat-downs.
To its credit, BROKEN CITY does give Wahlberg an interesting character to work with, one with contradictory layers seeking to find some sort of détente, but his good work is wasted here. The film is torpid when it should be tense, and lumbers when it should gallop.