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Broken City (2013)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/30/2013

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 5/13/2013

Politics is something which has always dominated the news. Even in a non-election year, the media constantly focuses on the government, and with the exponential growth of cable media outlets and political blogs (most of which have their own specific slant), it's nearly impossible to escape political stories. Even if you simply want to check the headlines or the weather, you usually have to endure some story out of Washington. Given this deluge, any movie about politics had better do a lot to separate itself from the pack and not look like something which we could easily see at 11pm. Can the political thriller Broken City do enough to remain relevant and yet interesting?

As Broken City opens, NYPD detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) guns down a suspect. Although he's acquitted of any wrongdoing, thanks to the aid of Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), police commissioner Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) still fires him. The story then jumps ahead seven years. Billy is working as a private detective and barely makes ends meet. He lives with Natalie (Natalie Martinez), an actress. Billy is surprised when he's called in to meet with Hostetler. The Mayor is involved in a close election against challenger Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper) and he asks Billy to spy on his wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), as he suspects her of cheating. Billy does his job and actually does observe Cathleen with another man (Kyle Chandler). Feeling that he's earned his fee, Billy goes to hand over the photos to Hostetler. But, then things begin to get complicated and Billy can see that this is more than a simply adultery gig. As he does some snooping, Billy realizes that everything happening around him is tied into the election.

Movies with plot twists have been around for decades and we need only to look at the classic films of Alfred Hitchcock for some prime examples. Today's films have gotten very twisty and we look to entries like The Sixth Sense and Fight Club as examples of how crazy and shocking these twists can be. Broken City, however, follows in the footsteps of classic noir films from the early part of the 20th century. While it doesn't go all in for the hardboiled detective angle, it does deliver the noir's version of the plot twist: the double cross. If you've ever seen a movie from this genre, then you know that no one can be trusted and Broken City carries on that grand tradition. The problem is that most viewers will see those double-crossings coming from a mile away. They are so formulaic and predictable that we have to question the intelligence of the characters for not being prepared for them. There are at least four moments in the film which are supposed to be surprising and they simply fall flat. Now, if the film was playing things tongue-in-cheek, as it knew that we, the audience, had seen this kind of movie before and knew what was going to happen, that would be cool, but everything in Broken City appears to be playing it straight.

These "twists" are layered onto a fairly pedestrian plot. There's nothing wrong with a movie accurately mirroring today's political landscape (especially if it's doing so for symbolism), but, as noted above, a film should do something so that it's entertaining and not a quasi-documentary. However, Broken City doesn't take this next step. The "scandal" exposed here is hardly intriguing. I usually don't promote gratuitous sex and violence, but the movie needed something to, if not take it over the top, at least push it near the top, but instead we get a fairly middle-of-the-road cover up. First time writer Brian Tucker clearly put a lot of work into making a multi-layered script, but he should have pushed the envelope some. Director Allen Hughes allows himself to be overwhelmed by the dense storyline and he could have easily cut out the drama with Natalie subplot, as it slowed the movie. The story doesn't get much help from its actors. Wahlberg and Zeta-Jones are on cruise-control, as they are playing the same types of characters they always play. Russell Crowe looks really out of place as the button-down, yet suspicious, mayor.

Political thrillers don't top my favorite genre list, but when done right, they can be very entertaining. The good ones take a story which could be true and then add just enough electricity to it to make it actually thrilling. Broken City certainly lays out a believable storyline, but then it doesn't take it anywhere. This is one movie I'm voting against.

Broken City does do a good job with its fake movie within a movie on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no distracting grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good, although they aren't overly bright. The image is never too bright or dark, although some of the night-time scenes border on being dark. The depth is very good, as the actors are clearly delineated from the backgrounds. The level of detail is good as well. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 3.7 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The party scene provides nice surround sound action, as we feel as if we are in the middle of it. The street scenes deliver adequate stereo effects which show good separation. A car chase provides notable subwoofer effects.

The Broken City Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. "Putting It All Together" (35 minutes) is a seven-part "making-of" featurette which looks at several aspects of the movie. It contains comments from the creative team and the cast. We learn that the script made the "Black List", which is somewhat surprising. We learn about how the project came together, and hear an overview of the story and themes. The piece also looks at the cast and characters, as well the look Hughes brought to the film. The Disc contains six DELETED SCENES which run about 9 minutes. We get an additional scene with Billy and Natalie here, as well as an "Alternate Ending", which is really just additional footage, not anything new. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.