I’ve become a Mark Wahlberg fan, to the point where almost everything he’s in, I have to see. Now, Pain & Gain was an exception, but I ran out to see Broken City in January, and I wanted to see it again when it released on Blu-ray. In this political thriller, Russell Crowe’s Mayor Nicholas Hostetler is the central character, obviously scheming but potentially evil manipulator of authority and individuals, and it’s Crowe who commands our attention throughout. But the players around Hostetler are significant to the story of redemption ground into the story of this city, and the potential dynamic playing out in the life of young Billy Taggart (Wahlberg).
In the opening sequence, we find Taggart standing over the body of a young man, situated in a less-than-savory neighborhood. We’ll later discover that the dead man raped the sister of a woman who becomes Taggart’s wife. In the subsequent trial, Taggart’s boss, Captain Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright), approaches the mayor, who makes evidence disappear. Taggart is freed but removed from the police force, and seven months later, the mayor hires him to privately investigate the mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) for having an affair.
It’s reasonably clear that there’s something “off” about the mayor. We know in our gut that something is going on but we’re not sure what. The film’s procedural process to find the truth is more notable for the decisions that Taggart must make: does he accept the freedom he’s been given from the charges of murder in his past? Or does he pursue justice or truth in a different way, potentially giving up his own freedom in the process? What does it mean for him to be truly “free” and what changes does he need to make if he really wants to “serve and protect?”
Broken City is about all of those “big picture” things: pride, power, privilege, duty, responsibility, restoration, redemption. I was reminded of the story of Chuck Colson, who said that in admitting to obstruction of justice (in not pleading not guilty) that he felt freer in prison than he had felt before, serving under President Richard Nixon. Sometimes, our ability to stand up and face our worst decisions and take responsibility for them, even when it costs us something, frees us up to really be who we want to be in the long run. It’s that facing down our sin, and not letting it “own” us, that allows us to be free. But first, we have to be forgiven.
Forgiveness only comes when someone else is at a place where they can say “I don’t hold this against you anymore.” As a follower of Christ, I claim that forgiveness from God through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Without it, I’m still “stuck,” imprisoned, tied to my mistakes, and the things I’ve done that I can’t undo. But I know that God has forgiven me, and I’m learning to forgive myself. Broken City is about claiming the right life all of the time, even when it’s inconvenient, and even when doing so means giving up our secrets to get there.