Broken City (d. Allen Hughes USA 2013) Review

Broken City (d. Allen Hughes USA 2013) Review

Please read ‘On Reviews‘ for a guide to how I write film reviews.


Broken City (d. Allen Hughes USA 2013) stars Mark Whalberg as Billy Taggart, Russell Crowe as Mayor Hostetler and Catherine Zeta-Jones as Cathleen Hostetler. What this may tell you about the film would be misleading or very little. In fact I would believe that most summaries would be misleading in its description of what one would experience whilst watching this film. I would like to talk about elements of this film without giving away spoilers. With this in mind I’ll talk about technical aspects whilst making general comments about the films composition. I shall talk about very specific moments but only in a way that doesn’t relate to the films plot in anything more than an atmosphere. So with this in mind…


Atmosphere in this film is very important. Very. The film encourages a distrust of any of the characters. This is made effective by contrasting scenes of characters as public figures and the same character behind a closed door. Billy Taggart, the protagonist of the piece is immediately an antihero due to events of questionable violence. The violence may also be excessive. But this atmosphere also runs straight to the cinematography in the shifting camera and sometimes jarring cuts. The camera will sometimes circle the characters but jump back to a previous position to continue its circle. This use of the camera as never static feels similar to the technique often used by Gasper Noé for films like Irréversible (d. Noé France 2002) and Enter the Void (d. Noé France/Germany/Italy/Canada 2009). The lighting also shows high contrasts and lots of use of black and dark colours. This city is dark and sinister. Who can you trust here?


This atmosphere, that encourages a distrust of the characters, has a negative affect. Do we care about the anti-hero Billy Taggart? Some of the events feel justified and we understand his actions but others feel excessive and so we are alienated from him. I wouldn’t say that this is due to performance. The problem arises in the conception of when and how much violence is justifiable morally? This problem with the protagonist unfortunately holds the rest of the film in jeopardy as through the events of the film it is crucial to care about him. However the film also attempts a particular depth with the characters and their sub-plots that unfortunately confuses the main plot more than it adds depth. This leaves plots unresolved and a spectator less interested in the plots that matter. A shame as there are some well constructed moments with the characters. Such as characters watching a film or watching events through a camera.


Overall, this was a very interesting film that unfortunately falls short of what it sets out to do. It makes for an enjoyable watch but it could be a lot more than what it is. A special mention goes to moments where the visuals will refer to superficial moments whilst the voiceover of another character elsewhere talks about the real issues. A comment that we are more interested in the little things rather than the big things. But unfortunately that’s what the film is. The little things are good but the big thing the film ….falls short.


Mark Wahlberg

Catherine Zeta-Jones

Broken City

Interview with Mark Walhberg

Interview with Russell Crowe

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