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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Cinema in Focus

Cinema in Focus: ‘Broken City’

A tale of political corruption and crime mystery join together in this disturbing film

By Hal Conklin and Denny Wayman | @CinemaInFocus |

3 Stars — Disturbing

There is no dispute that a corrupt mayor could abuse his position for personal gain. But when you study the history of these public servants, very few do. However, the notoriety of the few has caught the attention of the media and now of Allen Hughes in his film Broken City.

The first film that Hughes has directed without his brother Albert is based on the first movie screenplay written by Brian Tucker. It is perhaps this combination of firsts that reduces the quality of the tale.

The ensemble cast plays their parts well, but the one-dimensional characters, the stereotypical dialogue and the obvious forewarnings of plot development diminish what could have been exceptional cinema.

The mayor around whom the film revolves is New York City Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe). In a re-election struggle with an effective challenger, we soon realize the primary issue is the city’s decision to sell a public housing community to a known developer. The challenger is City Councilman Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), who is pushing back on the massive displacement this will cause to the NYC poor.

The second person of equal focus with the mayor is a NYC policeman who stepped over the line and shot a man who escaped prosecution for a rape and murder of a 16-year-old girl on a technicality. When he does so, officer Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) is protected by the major and chief of police, Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright), but forced to resign. He becomes a private investigator who seven years later becomes entangled in the mayor’s schemes.

The mayor’s wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones), and Taggarts girlfriend, Natalie Barrow (Natalie Martinez), play primary roles within both the underlying motivation and ultimate culmination of the tale. This is also true of Taggart’s secretary, Kathy Bradshaw (Alona Tal), and Valliant’s campaign manager, Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler).

The fact that evil is often discovered in the democratic system is a positive message within this tale. The abuse of power that fills the pockets of politicians is not a normative experience in a nation with built in checks and balances and a free press. But the damage is still pervasive, and it takes courage and sacrifice to stop it. The price that Taggart pays is not only due to his own sin but the sins of the city that was broken. That is true for all of us.


» Knowing the vast majority of public servants are hardworking, honest and compassionate, do you think films like this damage our trust in those who chose public service for their life’s work?

» The greed that underlies the mayor’s life cost him the love of his beautiful wife, but rather than divorce him she chose to be unfaithful. Which of these causes you more concern, the sin of greed or adultery? Why do you answer as you do? If a husband or wife sins, does that justify the sin of the spouse?

» It is difficult to imagine such obvious corruption as selling public land to a company in which a politician has ownership. What do you think should be the consequences of such behavior?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is a former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit, or follow them on Twitter: @CinemaInFocus. The opinions expressed are their own.

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