After the dodgy shooting of a murdering rapist, disgraced Noo Yawk cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg)
dodgy shooting of a murdering rapist, disgraced Noo Yawk cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) beats the rap but finds
himself drummed out of the police force and goes to work as a sleazy private
eye (is there any other kind?) catching adulterers in the act for chump
Flash forward a couple of years and the Big Apple’s gruff,
charismatic, Giuliani-esque mayor, Nick Hostetler (Russell Crowe), calls in a favour and hires Billy to tail his wife
Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Convinced his wife is having an affair
and, with the mayoral elections in less than a week and his liberal rival Jack
Valliant (Barry Pepper) doing well
in the polls, Hostetler wants to know where his wife’s been sleeping and who
But Billy’s investigations uncover a web of corruption and
murder and bring him to the attention of Hostetler’s ambitious, Machiavellian
police chief Carl Fairbanks (Jeffrey
Wright). Out of his depth and
unsure who to trust, Billy finds himself a pawn in a deadly behind-the-scenes
electoral battle with billions of dollars and the future of the city at stake.
An old-fashioned tale of dodgy deals and double crosses, as
neo-noirs go Allen Hughes’ slick,
pulpy Broken City sure isn’t Chinatown but it’ll do for now. A refreshingly murky wallow in the
corrupt cesspool of big city politics with a cast of believably morally
compromised characters, Hughes’ film bears something of a debt to the tight
urban thrillers of Sidney Lumet,
films like Serpico, Prince Of The City
and Q&A, while his direction is
as bold and muscular as the films (Menace II Society, From Hell, The Book Of Eli) he
made with twin brother Albert. The
script by first-time screenwriter Brian
Tucker is far from original, every cliché in the film noir canon is present
and correct (shady cops, duplicitous dames, corrupt politicians, dodgy
businessman, tarnished hero, several MacGuffins), there’s nothing particularly
new or original here, but the film is nimble enough not to get bogged down and
Tucker’s funny, profane dialogue sings.
The characters are familiar but fun and the classy A-list
cast are obviously having a ball.
Mark Wahlberg’s Billy is the latest in a tradition of none-too-bright,
morally compromised private eye heroes in film noir that dates back to the
likes of Robert Mitchum in Out Of The Past, Ralph Meeker in Kiss Me
Deadly and even Jack Nicholson
in Chinatown. Hell, even Bogart’s Sam Spade
wasn’t always sure what was going on.
Playing to his strengths, Wahlberg spends much of the film confused and
blundering around in the dark, a pawn of more savvy players, but he’s never
less than charismatic and there’s never much doubt that his wisecracking tough
guy will eventually do the right thing.
Both Jeffrey Wright and Russell Crowe seem to relish their roles,
Crowe’s bullish demagogue the slickest shark in the pond, Wright’s ambiguous
police chief an almost Mephistophelian string-puller. Barry Pepper (Seriously? You called the good guy politico Jack Valliant? Come on
guys…) and Kyle Chandler are also
strong, if a little bland, as Crowe’s more morally upright opponents,
Zeta-Jones brings sophistication and glamour to Crowe’s errant missus but the
brightest spark of the movie is Alona
Tal who’s a suitably feisty noir secretary to Wahlberg’s private dick.
Like its hero, Broken
City is never quite as smart as it thinks it is but it’s a dark,
entertaining, twisty slice of modern noir.