Broken City (US - BD RA)
Gabe has a belated review of Allen Hughes' star-studded mediocrity...
Seven years after being forced to resign as a New York police officer, private detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) takes on his toughest case yet: following the wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) of the city's hard-nosed mayor (Russell Crowe), who's convinced she's cheating on him. But, by the time the mayor reveals his true intentions, Billy is already in too deep. Now, with his freedom – and quite possibly his life -– on the line, Billy will risk it all in a desperate bid to expose the truth and seek redemption in a city where second chances don't come cheap. (From Fox’s official synopsis)
Based on the trailers and TV spots alone, you could be forgiven for assuming Broken City is the most generic political thriller of the modern era. The basic plot, as partially clarified by these ads, is tired (corrupt local government officials are the go-to concept for primetime television dramas that nobody watches, including The Good Wife, The Chicago Code, The Killing, and Boss) and the cast, though impressive in terms of recognizability, seems to have been cast entirely for type. But there was one thing those advertisements didn’t bother shouting at us – Broken City is directed by Allen Hughes on his first theatrical solo directing gig away from his twin brother, Albert. As part of the Hughes Brothers, Allen was at least partially responsible for Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, From Hell, and The Book of Eli. Menace II Society is the one film in that collection that I’d consider an unmitigated success, but all of them are stylistically impressive movies that overcome some huge narrative issues. Assuming Allen was able to reproduce the visual success of those films on his own, it is conceivable that he could make a generic political thriller that was interesting to look at.
Sadly, Broken City is a pretty average-looking movie. I mean, it’s certainly slick – the camera is constantly swirling around the actors with minimal cutting and clean movement – but there are no striking images or bravado set-pieces to note. The whole thing is far too route and bland for someone as visually talented as Hughes. I suppose he was going for a kind of Michael Mann thing, but, in combination with the sub-par subject matter, it comes across as imitation. A grittier, faux-Lumet look may have felt too cliché, but it would’ve served the middle of the road material much better. The screenplay, written by first-time feature screenwriter Brian Tucker, is just as certifiably interchangeable as I had assumed. Tucker has definite skills, but he follows the stone-set rules of screenwriting so closely that his story lacks texture. His characters are defined less by their actions, which match those of numerous similar characters throughout filmdom, and more by random bits of dialogue that don’t have a lot to do with the plot. At best, these bits are cute; on average, they deter from the focus and at worst, they’re oddly homophobic. In fact, the entire movie is teeming with a vague sense of homophobia that I won’t go into too much, because it might indicate spoilers (though not really).
Hughes and Tucker seem to think of their film as something of a chess game between characters, but there’s no checkmate to look forward to – just vaguely angry people pushing the same pawns around the board for nearly two hours. The film also lacks efficiency as it wastes screen time attempting to juxtapose Taggart’s relationship problems with the mayor’s. The subplots concerning Taggart’s girlfriend Natalie (she has a sexy part in an independent film and her sister was raped and murdered) all scream ‘delete us from the movie, we do not fit!’ Apparently Hughes eventually got the memo, because about half way through the film Natalie just disappears altogether (her remaining scenes do appear on the Blu-ray’s deleted scenes). As stated, the cast is impressive on paper, but has been hired to play familiar types, meaning no one really stands out as particularly memorable. Wahlberg plays a typically unlikable Wahlbergian anti-hero, Crowe plays a typically Croweish jerk, Zeta-Jones plays a typically Zeta-Jonesian classy ice queen, and Jeffrey Wright plays another guy that looks cross and mumbles threats at people. These major characters are also relentlessly unlikable – they growl melodrama at each other and any moment of emotional growth is entirely unbelievable. Barry Pepper steps out of the mould, because, at this point in his career, he doesn’t have a type. His chameleon status makes him the default all-star alongside Alona Tal, who gets the funniest lines as Wahlberg’s assistant. She’s also the only person in the film that isn’t generally icky.
Broken City was shot in digital HD using the Arri Alexa camera system and is presented here in 1080p, 2.40:1 widescreen. The image quality is certainly digital-looking, with clean edges, smooth textures, soft blends, and a general lack of noise. The details are most impressive in terms of complex patterns and differentiations, but not so much in textures, most of which are softened by either a lack of focus or the digital-y blends. Hughes and cinematographer Ben Seresin take advantage of the format’s colour abilities to create a particularly limited yet consistent palette. Most of the colours fall under the banner of cool teal, warm orange, or poppy mustard yellow with only occasional exceptions. The whole thing is very artificial-looking and kind of soupy, but the Blu-ray does well with the easily muddled material. The film is pretty dark overall, which doesn’t do the overall detail levels any favours (and is honestly kind of unattractive), but also doesn’t damage the softer background gradations. Black levels are a bit on the blue side with some (likely intended) gradient changes and the warmest yellows and reds tend to display minor edge haloes, but there aren’t any notable low-level noise or blocking effects.
Hughes’ movies, at least the ones he made alongside his brother, have all featured dynamically sharp soundtracks where loud shocks lie in wait within mostly quiet aural landscapes. Broken City has its share of stylized audio, but mostly follows the ‘quiet, loud, quiet’ design set by those previous films. The track is plenty busy with the murmur of street noise or other vague bits of ambience, though a lot of this is actually centered alongside the dialogue. There is a crunchy, grinding car chase that capitalizes on directional effects and punchy bass support, along with a relatively aggressive fist fight, but both of these are very brief moments. The film’s score is credited to three composers, Atticus Ross, Claudia Sarne, and Leo Ross. The music is a mix of the electronic music that drives many modern crime dramas and occasionally haunting synth sounds that undercut the moodier moments. The score is usually set pretty low on the track, but does have a handful of break-out moments that give the LFE and surround channels something to do.
The extras begin with five deleted/extended scenes and an alternate ending (8:40, HD), including more of Taggart’s girlfriend subplotting and homophobic remarks. Up next is Putting it All Together (34:50, HD), a seven-part behind-the-scenes featurette that covers the script’s inspirations and the fact that it sat unfilmed for years (apparently it was seen as one of the most sought-after screenplays in Hollywood), the film’s noir roots (I guess?), casting, filming, the film’s look, and the real-world political parallels. It includes interviews with Hughes, Tucker, editor Cindy Mollo, producer Randall Emmett, production designer Paul Dufferd, Wahlberg (who also acted as producer), and other cast members Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Russell Crowe, and Anola Tal. The extras end with a trailer and trailers for other Fox releases.
I’ve tried to convince myself that Broken City has some kind of value, but it’s a nearly catastrophic failure for everyone involved. There are maybe two sequences that show any kind of promise. Hopefully, Allen Hughes will find something better to apply his ample talents to next time he makes a film without his brother, Albert. I assume not enough people saw this movie for it to be much of a negative strike on his CV. This Blu-ray isn’t particularly outstanding, but only because the imagery is so plastic-looking and the sound design so understated. The extras are somewhat informative, despite being over-stuffed with EPK salesmanship.
* Note: The image on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray image quality.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 30th April 2013
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, DTS 5.1 Italian, Dolby Digital 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, Italian
Extras: Putting It All Together, Deleted/Alternate Scenes, Trailers, DVD Copy, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Allen Hughes
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper
Genre: Crime, Drama, Film-Noir and Mystery
Length: 109 minutes
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