Blu-ray Review: Broken City

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Allen Hughes, one half of the acclaimed Hughes brothers directorial team, goes solo for the first time on a theatrical release (in 2005 he was also without brother Albert for the TV film Knights of the South Bronx) with Broken City. The slick crime thriller (unfortunately sans thrills, for the most part) underwhelmed audiences in January 2013, failing to hit the $20 million mark at the U.S. box office. While theatrical gross should never be used as an indicator of a film’s quality, this public indifference is notable considering the cast includes Mark Walhberg, Russell Crowe, and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

I expressed a rather dismal view of Broken City a few weeks back when it premiered as a Fox DHD title prior to emerging on Blu-ray. Though my opinions haven’t changed (see my review here), I will emphasize that, even though there’s no brilliant acting here, there might be some minor pleasures for hardcore fans of Wahlberg or Crowe. In fact, Wahlberg was a co-producer and major believer in Brian Tucker’s screenplay. Maybe it read better on the page than it ended up playing on the screen.

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Wahlberg stars as former NYPD detective Billy Taggart. Tried for the murder of a teenager who raped and killed his girlfriend’s sister, Billy is acquitted in a controversial verdict. Behind the scenes, Captain Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright) and Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) worked to suppress damning evidence that could’ve put Billy away. In the end, the worst thing Billy faces is being let go by the department.

Zip forward seven years and Mayor Hostetler’s wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is knee-deep in an affair. The mayor employs Billy as a private detective, expecting him to find out who she’s involved with. That person is Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), a campaign manager for rival mayoral candidate Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). It’s inspired casting because, whether intentional or not, Chandler resembles Crowe physically. It kind of makes sense on a subliminal level that Cathleen would be attracted to him. At any rate, the densely plotted script just fails to hold any reasonable level of interest. Whether that’s a weakness in the writing or Hughes' lax direction (or a combination), it’s impossible to say. I just wish there was more to these characters.

Though very modestly budgeted (reportedly around $35 million), Broken City looks and sounds first-rate on Blu-ray. The 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer has a cool, steely blue tone throughout. Though not a particularly inventive look for a cop thriller, it’s a perfectly acceptable example of the sharp detail offered by the format. The 5.1 DTS-HD MA mix is equally professional, with the atmospheric score sounding especially evocative. The action-oriented sequences offer effective surround effects, but overall the mix is rather subdued (which matches the low-intensity vibe of the entire film).

There are a few extras on the Broken City Blu-ray, which also includes a standard DVD version. About eight minutes of deleted scenes add little to the experience, though there is an apparently improvised phone call scene that’s amusing for ending with Wahlberg busting up in laughter. The meat of the extras is the multi-part “making of” featurette called “Putting it All Together” that has a “play all” option. It runs about 35 minutes and offers a surprisingly substantial behind-the-scenes look at the production. Director Allen Hughes offers thoughtful insights into what drew him to the project initially. I just wish more of that ended up in the finished product.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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