Broken City opens on New York City detective Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg) on trial for the murder of a young man whilst on duty. He claims self-defense, of course, but the public’s convinced that events transpired otherwise. Ultimately, though, Billy’s acquitted due to a lack of evidence. We learn precious little about Billy during this sequence. In fact, we’re barely able to discern that he’s the film’s protagonist. Then we randomly skip ahead seven years, and when we’re back to Billy, he’s beating the hell out of two guys for virtually no reason at all. Thus, it’s not until he’s brutally beaten these two men and killed a boy in the opening that we get a scene in which we’re at last able to warm up to him… a little. But not much, though. And that’s significant, because it highlights the fundamental flaw of Broken City: why should we care?
Characters are of course the primary way in which audiences access a work’s narrative, and while following Billy through the mystery is certainly enough for us to glean the basic elements of the plot, we’ve no emotional point of entry into Broken City’s narrative. That is, unless you’ve a particularly strong affinity for the star identities of Mark Wahlberg or his co-stars Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones. Yet, Zeta-Jones’ character is barely in the movie, making her hard to identify with, and Wahlberg and Crowe play terrible people. This forces us to ask that plot-killer of a question: why should I give a damn? The only way I can see that happening is if you’re really devoted to one of those performers’ careers, ostensibly loving every single thing they have and will ever be in, no matter what.
Still, I have to say that, if you’re indeed a fan of this bunch, you shouldn’t be disappointed. All three stars deliver solid performances, even if Crowe is a bit over-the-top and Zeta-Jones is often nowhere to be seen. But Jeffrey Wright and Barry Pepper are pretty great in their supporting roles. And Wahlberg does here what he does so well in most every other movie. And I can imagine that, were I a bigger fan of Wahlberg than I am (and I’ll admit a certain affinity for the man’s work, though it’s not a particularly overwhelming affinity), I just might have been drawn into the heated back-and-forth struggle between him and Crowe throughout. I just… wasn’t. I couldn’t have cared less, honestly. But that doesn’t mean you won’t, of course. Consider this a cautionary tale.
Broken City is currently available in a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, which includes an alternate ending, a behind-the-scenes documentary and deleted scenes.