SYNOPSIS: In a city rife with injustice, ex-cop Billy Taggart seeks redemption and revenge after being double-crossed and then framed by Mayor Nicholas Hostetler.
REVIEW: One half of The Hughes Brother, known for Menace II Society, Dead Presidents, and From Hell, Allen Hughes continues his solo track with a script from newcomer Brian Tucker for the new Mark Walhberg and Russell Crowe political suspense/thriller Broken City.
Detective Lt. Billy Taggert (Mark Wahlberg, Ted) is found over the body of a young man in a rent-controlled projects. Soon therafter, Taggert is facing a preliminary hearing with murder charges hanging over his head. When the judge rules that there is not enough evidence for a trial, the public outrage forces police chief Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey Wright,The Ides of March) and NYC Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe, Les Miserables) to take Taggert off the force for good. Seven years later, Taggert is a financially struggling private investigator, complete with a snarky assistant Katy Bradshaw (Alona Tal, Kalamity).
Just as his luck is running out, Mayor Hostetler - on the eve of the mayoral election against wealthy congressman Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper, True Grit) - calls on Taggert with a job to follow his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones, Rock of Ages) who he suspects is having an affair. But when Taggert delivers the evidence of Cathleen's betrayal, the political fallout goes far beyond the scope of the job, leading to murder, double-cross, and intrigue.
Mark Walhberg does what he does best. He faces his character Billy Taggert with a scowl, a growl, and a constant furrow in his brow. Taggert has a successful quick wit and quicker jabbing hands, even if he struggles as a private dick. With every hero - or with Taggert, an anti-hero - there needs to be a superior antagonist. With Mayor Hostetler, Russell Crowe takes to the character a thinly veiled and practiced charisma that masks a coiled snake. But is he the villain?
Sure, he has his concerns about the fidelity and loyalty of his wife, but does he have ulterior motives? Police Chief turned Commissioner Fairbanks detests how Taggert escaped prosecution years earlier and seems to throw it in Taggert's face at every turn. Catheen Hostetler has her own motives but seems harmless enough. It's not until the end of the film when the dust settles that everything becomes crystal clear.
As far as political civil servant suspense thrillers go, Broken City will never break the top tiers in the genre. Going against Serpico, The French Connection, or Walhberg's The Departed, Mark and Russell's new effort falls a little short. Don't get me wrong, Mark Walhberg is a capable hero, stringing together a slew of hits from The Italian Job to The Shooter to The Departed to Ted to The Fighter to Contraband. Mark knows action, and he is an underrated action hero. He has proven that his passion for a project helps the film's success. I think maybe this film was just a paycheck.
With a lot of moving parts, Broken City tries out lay out plenty of political intrigue in this 109 minute movie. Every character is on the take, "owned" by someone due to something held over their heads, filled with too much information that is given away a little too freely, or simply under utilized. Taggert's long time girlfriend Natalie (Natalie Martinez, End of Watch) serves as the pivot point for Taggert's entire world, but seems to disappear as soon as her work is done. Zeta-Jones' Cathleen keeps everything close to her vest until its important for Taggert to have additional information to help move the plot along.
Even Jeffrey Wright's Police Commissioner knows more than he's telling. Formulaic, Broken City just doesn't have enough to intrigue the fickle masses. Walhberg takes a beating and strikes out with his fast hands, but he is somewhat fighting with one hand tied behind his back. Only Wright's Fairbanks, Pepper's Valliant, James Ransone's (Sinister) Todd Lancaster, and Kyle Chandler's (Zero Dark Thirty) Paul Andrews bring their A-Game.
Sometimes shot with too soft a lens, sometimes shot with too grainy a lens, Hughes tries to set a tone and visual quality for the film that just doesn't seem to fit or be consistent. Even the musical score, filled with techy noises, is more of a distraction than an enhancement. Couple that with Russell Crowe's amateur New York accent, and one can see where the suspense starts to unravel a bit.
Broken City is a decent effort in the suspense genre. If you like everything Mark Wahlberg does, even this film may not live up to your expectations. Walhberg gets the job done as always, but at what cost?
★ ★ ★ out of 5 | Rental
Rated: R Violence, some sexual content and pervasive language.
Release Date: January 18, 2013
Runtime: 1 hour 49 minutes
Director: Allen Hughes
Writers: Brian Tucker
Cast: Mark Walhberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler