Broken City - there is always Someone watching
Film noir in America had its glory days in the 1930:ies and 40:ies - black and white movie classics with beautiful femme fatales, flawed heroes and villains to remember. Sometimes you couldn’t see the difference between the bad and the good, the ugly and the beautiful.
Today there is a revival of film noir in American cinema - film noir with a modern twist. Deadfall, starring Eric Bana and Olivia Wilde as outlaw siblings, is film noir combined with elements from the western genre, as well as being a thriller. Broken City, starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe, is film noir combined with a political thriller - and questions about our society today.
Broken City is a good example of modern film noir, film noir post nine-eleven. The terror attacks made it possible for people with different agendas to proclaim themselves “the good guys” and quickly there were new laws passed and the result is still here today: more and more surveillance. But not less “crime” or “terrorism”.
We have finally reached the ultimate version of 1984 with “big brother watching you” - only no one knows who “big brother” is and why they are watching. Questions about the surveillance issue were put to Obama when he visited Sweden. He was evasive.
What is the motive? Who is good, who is bad, who is the cat, who is the mouse? Can anyone tell? These are important questions in today’s society - thus a new type of film noir is perfect for this new climate.
Broken City can be summed up in one sentence: “There is always someone watching.”
But who is watching whom and why and what is the information to be used for? For good or bad? Real life issues are used to create the suspense.
The main character Billy (Mark Wahlberg) did something seven years ago - and someone was watching, someone recorded, and that someone sold the information to someone else. That someone else is storing the information for future use - seven years later.
Seven is a number often used in fairy tales and here seven years isn’t enough to escape the curse from the past - stored information.
Billy works as a private eye, but his life is a far cry from that of Raymond Chandler’s hero in the classic noir detective stories, or that of a film noir character played by Humphrey Bogart. He hasn’t even got a trench coat. The irony is that Billy makes his living from - that’s right -watching. He watches people, takes pictures, records information - and never asks what the information is going to be used for. One may even say: Billy is watching, but he does not see.
One day he is hired by the mayor (played by Russell Crowe) and he delivers the goods - not even beautiful femme fatale (Catherine Zeta Jones) can dissuade him from his course - and delivering the goods leads to murder.
Watching and storing and selling information. Sounds respectable? It leads to murder.
As a political statement in America today this is perfectly timed. And highly explosive.
Broken City manages to capture the feeling of a black and white film - done in autumn colours. This is a New York where everybody is impeccably dressed, not a gaudy color in sight, not even a garish baseball cap in the shot. Realistic? Not really. But beautifully done.
Only two passages differ from the autumn tones of the narrative - both films within the film. One an amateur film, one an independent film starring Billy’s girlfriend - this is shot in tones of blue. The sky disappears into the sea or vice versa - the line gets blurred just like the lines between good and bad, right and wrong gets blurred of this autumnal portrait of New York.