Broken City begins in fast-paced muddle. It begins at a blurry crime scene, and move quickly to a tense courtroom. At the same time that New York cop Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg) is having the charges for murder dismissed against him in court, Mayor Hoestetler (Russell Crowe) is being made aware of incriminating evidence against Billy that would certainly send him to prison – quite a coincidence in timing wouldn’t you say? The mayor is willing to face down the police commissioner (Carl Fairbanks) and a race riot to keep the evidence hidden so long has Billy resigns. Billy is a cop, a good guy; the murder victim is clearly a bad guy. It seems like a normal, everyday kind of conspiracy for the greater good. There is something reminiscent of the Godfather when the Mayor assures Billy that their paths will cross again.
Seven years later Billy Taggert is putting his law enforcement background to work as a tough-talking private detective. But Billy isn’t a businessman. So the Mayor’s phone call with a $50K job to get proof of his wife’s (Catherine Zeta-Jones) infidelity comes like a financial deus ex machina for Billy.
At the end of Act 1 Billy’s pretty ordinary problems have been solved in the time allotted for a sitcom. But what appears to have been a simple solution actually puts Billy in the middle of a classic film noir plot.
Probably you’ve heard the term, film noir, those black and white films that exaggerate lighting and are equal parts drama and thriller. What defines film noir beyond style is the presence of dark forces at work that pull the characters into a fate that they futilely try to resist.
That brings us back to the opening scene that ultimately drives the whipsaw plot twists not to mention the layers of secrets and motives caked on top of each other. Beyond Billy’s increasingly messy circumstances are the ordinary vices that are staples for police movies: corruption and adultery. Broken City resists the temptation to get on a soapbox as it exposes the heros as villians and celebrates the antiheros. And so it goes in Broken City, the Mayor, his wife, his opponent in the election, the police commissioner, powerful campaign donors are all linked together in a web of corruption that turn what is good and bad upsidedown.
Broken City is a conventionally done movie aimed squarely at a general audience, which is it say that it is meant to be believable. It is also very fast paced. It’s portrayal of politics, budget issues, and the juxtaposition of the very wealthy with the poor could only be more current if it all took place on Oprah’s couch. At the same time, Broken City is a gateway film to noir classics like Kiss Me Deadly and the Maltese Falcon. True film noir with its femme fatales, it’s sizzlingly over the top dialogue, is an acquired taste – while Broken City is a real crowd pleaser.