Allen Hughes (half of the Hughes Brothers, directors of ‘Menace II Society‘ and ‘The Book of Eli‘) branches off on his own with the political crime drama ‘Broken City’. The story dives into the deep dark corners of politics and the police force in New York City during a big mayoral election. I’m calling it now; Brian Tucker’s debut screenplay deserves at least an Oscar nomination next year. This multi-layered drama with intense characters shines above others in its genre.
We focus on the trail end of the campaign between incumbent Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and his young and rich opponent Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper). Both are trying to win the people of New York over housing and tax issues. However, the complex story is riddled with lies, betrayals, murders and other atrocious acts.
We see the film through the eyes of Detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), who was forced to quit the police force by Mayor Hostetler several years ago when a crime scene went wrong. Now, Taggart has opened a private investigation practice. Business is very good, or would be if his clients paid him on time. He’s owed over $40k in completed work and might have to shut down his office. Much to his fortune, Mayor Hostetler calls Taggart and hires him to take pictures of his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) to find out who she’s having an affair with. Taggart accepts the job, which will pay more than what he’s owed from all of his clients.
From this point, we’re led into a dark territory as we find clue after clue that add twists to the story. Of course, it wasn’t just an affair that the mayor’s wife was having. I’ve never seen a film where every character hates one another. Sure, Taggart and his assistant (Alona Tal) work well together, not a scene goes by where she doesn’t call him an “asshole.” In addition to the political relationships, each character has a family, and they all seem to have a high level of hatred and violence toward one another.
The script is very well written, with quick, smart dialogue that feels fresh and new. We also get glimpses of each character’s strengths and weaknesses, in order to showcase just how thoroughly they’ve been thought-out. Wahlberg does an amazing job. I think this might be his best work since ‘Boogie Nights‘. He shows what a tortured soul he is and how he wants to do good, even if it proves to be his downfall. And Crowe’s performance is perfectly played as a charming and witty politician with a very sinister undertone. Plus, his New York accent is very convincing and believable. Zeta-Jones’ character probably has the most depth and mystery. We never really know what side she’s on. Unfortunately, she receives little screen time, but when she’s on, she’s golden.
If you’re looking for an action movie, this probably isn’t it. Although it has a few very violent scenes and a small car chase, ‘Broken City’ mostly relies on smart dialogue, two-faced characters and surprises at every turn to keep you on the edge of your seat. Usually, studios dump their sub-par films in January, but ‘Broken City’ breaks that tradition. Highly recommended.