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Video Reviews

Plugged In Rating
Content Caution
MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Drama, Action/Adventure, Mystery/Suspense
Cast
Mark Wahlberg as Billy Taggart; Russell Crowe as Mayor Hostetler; Catherine Zeta-Jones as Cathleen Hostetler; Jeffrey Wright as Carl Fairbanks; Barry Pepper as Jack Valliant; Alona Tal as Katy Bradshaw; Natalie Martinez as Natalie Barrow; Kyle Chandler as Paul Andrews
Director
Allen Hughes (The Book of Eli)
Distributor
20th Century Fox
In Theaters
January 18, 2013
On Video
April 30, 2013
Reviewer
Paul Asay
Broken City

Broken City

Who is Billy Taggart?

The court system says he's innocent. Granted, the cop shot and killed someone in one of New York City's neglected housing projects under, shall we say, unclear circumstances. But Billy's defense team says he was only defending himself, and the jury believes it.

The mob outside says he's a self-deputized executioner at best, a cold-blooded murderer at worst. The man he killed was accused of raping and killing a woman—but was exonerated by the same legal system now trying Billy. Some, including the cop, believe the guy just got off on a technicality. So does that mean Billy engaged in some vigilante justice? You bet he did, they say.

Mayor Hostetler declares Billy a hero. Forget everything else, he says. This guy took out a thug—a murderer in all but the paperwork. There's one less homicidal rapist on the streets of NYC, Hostetler says. How can that be a bad thing?

But hero or no, there's still politics to consider—and politically Billy's damaged goods. He can't remain on the force, not with half the city calling for his blood. Hostetler tells him he's gotta step down. But have no fear, the mayor promises: Billy Taggart now has a friend in a very high place.

Seven years go by, and Billy's just a guy who takes pictures, he says—a private investigator who spends nights trailing wayward spouses, days trying to collect money from heartbroken clients. It's a disheartening job … but it is a job. And what else is a disgraced ex-cop supposed to do?

Then one day he gets called into the mayor's office. Hostetler tells Billy that his wife is cheating on him. He wants evidence of the dalliance, and he wants it now. He's locked in a brutal election battle with a bleeding-heart billionaire named Jack Valliant, and Hostetler needs to nail down the truth of the matter before his opponent gets a whiff of it.

And with that, Hostetler hands Billy a check for $25,000—half of what Hostetler plans to pay—and tells him to get to work.

If Billy's mind hadn't been clouded by all those zeros, perhaps he might've considered why Hostetler would've ponied up so much money to a guy who "just takes pictures." A guy with some damaging skeletons in his closet. Might this consummate politician have other, even more troubling reasons why he wants Billy to tail his wife?

Who is Billy Taggart?

It's up for debate. But few accuse the guy—including Billy himself—of being particularly smart.

Positive Elements

Billy is hardly what you'd call a model police officer or an exemplary private eye. He does many things that we at Plugged In—and most of those around us in society—can only sadly shake our heads at. But here's the thing: When everything's on the line and he must either do the right thing or save his own skin, he chooses the former. He exposes corruption and saves a good chunk of New York City from certain (if not particularly dramatic) destruction, even though he knows it'll mean the end of his freedom. And when you try to define the word hero, is there any clearer definition than that? A man who risks his life and well-being for the sake of doing what's right? Billy isn't a hero when the movie begins. When it ends? Perhaps.

Spiritual Content

Billy's Catholic faith is mentioned in passing several times. And when he visits the home of his girlfriend's parents, we see that the place is festooned with a great deal of Catholic iconography. That girlfriend, Natalie, is a fledgling actress performing in her first big indie movie: Her character is said to be religious.

Sexual Content

Natalie's cinematic break is largely based, it would appear, on a very graphic sex scene in her indie movie. We see (in this movie within the movie) her bare breasts as she acts out sex with her co-star, a sequence filled with sexual movement and gasping and sweaty grappling. Billy sees the scene for the first time during the movie's premiere: He's embarrassed and horrified, and at an after-party he drunkenly accuses Natalie of actually having sex with her co-star. (Natalie neither confirms nor denies.)

As mentioned, Billy spends a lot of time trailing secret lovers around town. During one stakeout, he takes pictures of a man and woman in each other's erotic clutches, seeing critical portions of the woman's breast. Many characters discuss infidelity. Hostetler, even as he accuses his wife of cheating on him, appears to suggestively touch his personal assistant's backside. We hear discussion about the sexual proclivities of dogs, faked orgasms and homosexuality. Same-sex marriage is a cause championed by the mayor's wife.

Violent Content

The movie opens with Billy still clutching a smoking gun as his infamous assailant/victim lies dead in the street—a bloody bullet hole in his forehead and more bloodstains on his shirt.

As Billy's leaving the scene of an extramarital interlude, he's attacked by two men—one who takes exception to his trespassing, the other the guy engaged in the affair. He beats both of them down pretty emphatically, leaving them bleeding beside the house. Later, one calls up Billy's office and threatens his life.

Billy roughs up the actor he suspects of sleeping with his girlfriend, choking him. He also shoots an assailant in the leg; the two fight in a darkened room, and Billy eventually kills the guy. The ex-cop breaks into a house and threatens a would-be informant with a gun.

Billy is shot at and engages in a frenetic car chase; several automobiles are damaged along the way, and Billy's own vehicle crashes into a concrete barrier, knocking him out. He fills a bathtub with water and forces the head of a potential witness down into it, "encouraging" him to talk. A man is found dead in the street, blood staining his shirt. Hostetler seems to threaten his wife. Jack breaks a glass in his hand. A man slaps and berates his adult son.

Crude or Profane Language

At least 85 f-words (including a handful of uses in some background music) and almost 20 s-words. We hear "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "b‑‑tard," "h-ll," "f-g," "p-ss" and some crude colloquialisms for male body parts. God's name is abused about 10 times, more than half conjoined with "d‑‑n."

Drug and Alcohol Content

Shortly after we first meet Billy, we hear that he's been sober for seven years—ever since he left the force. He's repeatedly offered drinks and, initially, he refuses them all. He tells someone that he quit drinking because of his relationship with Natalie.

But after Billy sees Natalie's filmed sex scene, the ex-cop swan dives off the wagon, drinking heavily that night and becoming extraordinarily belligerent. After he roughs up Natalie's co-star and leaves Natalie in tears, he staggers around the city streets for a while longer, buying more booze and occasionally throwing half-full bottles at passing cars.

That same evening he discovers that the man supposedly having an affair with the mayor's wife has been murdered. Suddenly, he takes on the appearance of a stone-cold-sober detective and is ushered into the investigation by the police commissioner himself. As the plot marches forward, people keep encouraging Billy to drink more and more. And when Billy and the commissioner have an informal talk at a bar, the commissioner leaves and tells the bartender to give Billy anything he wants on the commish's own tab. Billy immediately pulls a bottle of booze close to him and starts pouring.

He must spend much of the latter half of the movie somewhat inebriated, then, despite being on the job and behind the wheel and making whiz-bang detective deductions that he was seemingly incapable of making while sober. So Billy's late-movie heroism seems to go hand-in-hand with his perpetual inebriation—making alcohol the central player in one of the movie's most alarming logical and ethical leaps.

Others also drink wine, champagne, hard liquor, etc. Billy and the commissioner find Jack Valliant in a state of deep impairment. Someone smokes a cigarette.

Conclusion

Broken City is a broken movie—a ham-handed cop-and-corruption thriller that never manages to thrill, a political morality tale with precious few morals. Despite a strong cast (Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones), the whole thing feels flat and flimsy.

In terms of content, though, all the typical problems you'd expect to find in an R-rated actioner arrive intact: violence, sex, foul language. Add to that a hero who also seems to use booze like Popeye uses spinach, which gives us a more unusual content problem to ponder.

Think of Broken City as a crime scene, if you will. Now see the police tape cordoning it off. And the police officer waving curious pedestrians away. "Move along," he's saying. "There's nothing to see here."

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