Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

15 October 2013

Broken, Indeed

Apparently, Broken City was not a novel before it became a screenplay by Brian Tucker. 

Yet Allen Hughes's film feels gutted, as though an enormous portion of it is missing. Plot points go whizzing past and big character revelations feel like afterthoughts. The worst part is half of these big surprises feel superfluous. This person is having sex with this person – but we only get to hear about it. This person was making a deal with this other person, but the movie's audience gets this information from a secondary source.

In truth, Broken City is a kind of James Bond-style action film: spying, betrayals, big, rich villains. Of course, it isn't wearing the fancy tuxedo of a Bond movie; instead it's dressed up like a noir thriller, pretending to be a corrupt city drama à la L.A. Confidential or something by Brian De Palma. This movie wishes it were made in the 1940s, and wishes Mark Wahlberg were Edmond O'Brien. But Broken City never manages any of that. Instead it plays like a television crime-drama, with predictable heroes and surprise villains who aren't surprises at all. Even worse, Broken City isn't the least bit sexy, though numerous plot points involve who is sleeping with whom.

Mr. Wahlberg, doing the right thing, of course

The cinematography is rather enjoyable, and there is a good car chase in act three. There are a couple of great fight scenes, too. But the direction is dry and the script is worse. I love me some Mark Wahlberg, and I'm gonna keep seeing the movies he's in (at least for now), but this is three burns in a row by my count.

And this film ought to have been better. It's a gorgeous city. The cast is stellar. Corruption. Scandal. Tuxedos. But Broken City languishes. The cast feels like they're phoning it in. Except for Wahlberg the characters all turn out one-dimensional, and the screenwriter hides information from the audience arbitrarily, frustratingly, and finally stupidly. By the end, the big revelation feels like just a little hiccup, a dumb secret that had been kept for the film's entirety but ended up not being the least bit interesting.