While not overtly revolutionary, Mark Wahlberg’s new film Broken City does entertain and surprisingly, in spite of its faults, does keep the audience guessing. Even with its pat plot, director Allen Hughes (the first time at the helm without brother Albert) and his strong cast manage to toss in a few twists and keep the action going from start to finish. With co-stars like Russell Crowe and Catherine Zeta-Jones, it truly is difficult to go too wrong, at least in this case anyway.
The film opens on a dark rainy night, with Detective Billy Taggart standing over the body of a young man and by all appearance the detective’s decisions to fire has merit, but flash to an angry mob, courtroom scene and then to the NY mayor’s (Crowe) office and we discover that all is not as it seems. With new, incriminating evidence looming, the mayor and the city’s police chief (Jeffery Wright) ask Taggart for his badge. Jump again, to seven years later, where Taggart works as an independent private investigator, photographing cheating spouses to make ends meet. Then the mayor, in a bid to retain his post against a slick competitor, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper) hires Taggart to follow his wife, telling him an affair would cost him the race. Soon, Taggart is embroiled in politics, lies and murder.
Action, cop thrillers are Wahlberg’s niche. He’s tried his hand a cop-comedy, but I think he failed at that – epically. Still, he does branch out well in dramas and in Broken City, typecasting or not, we get pure, pumped up, hardcore Wahlberg. Crowe often surprises, like singing (far better noise than a cat with a tail caught in a door) in Les Mis, and he is wonderful as the contentious, creepy Mayor Hostetler, seething illicitness and dishonesty. Don’t get me started on his unconvincing, overdone accent, greasy hair-style and tan-in- box skin tone. His is an almost cartoonish rendition of a perfidious politician if ever there was one, but it works wonderfully.
At first I didn’t care for Zeta-Jones in this, but she grew on me after a bit. Wright does well as the corrupt (or is he?) chief and Pepper, too, as the polished mayoral challenger, but the film’s most delightful and interesting character comes from Alona Tal who plays Katy, Billy’s plucky assistant. She eats up the scenes she’s in and infuses some needed humor, which brings me to the script, by newcomer Brian Tucker, because he does include some welcome touches of light humor into the story. To his credit, at one point, I thought I had the whole tale figured out and I missed the mark by a stretch – rare for me.
Those looking for something particularly new will probably find Broken City (rated R) disappointing because it actually is just another film about corrupt politicians, hard core cops and sinister dealings. I argue, however, because Hughes picked this cast that the film does entertain. Tucker captures the essence of his characters well with his apt dialogue, especially Hostetler. Its Hughes that loses his way with how he spins the tale, switching from thriller to action film and back in a blink and too soon really and several aspects of the story never really add up or make sense in the scheme of things. Taggart goes off the wagon, gets raging drunk, does stupid stuff and then seems to sober up, super fast. A point in the plot (initiated by the opening sequence) never plays how respectably and a real-estate scam introduced as a pivotal plot point never works out as it seemed to be planned.
Broken City won’t go in the annals of film history as a genre favorite, but it plays out far better than many. It has a sharp edge and a nice, albeit repugnant oomph to it, and I think it will please fans of the genre and of the film’s stars. I am placing a C+/B- in my grade book. My guest and I were never bored.