Director Allen Hughes (of The Hughes Brothers) goes solo with his political thriller/action film Broken City. What looked like a boring made-for-TV movie about typical political scandal somehow turns out to be a well-made drama with noteworthy performances by its two leads Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe. Broken City is smartly written and constantly surprising around every corner.
Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) was once a New York City cop. He is now a private detective that mostly takes photos of cheating spouses and businessmen to help make ends meet. His girlfriend is an aspiring actor and she just landed her first indie film, which means money is tight and Billy needs to start collecting or else he’s not going to have a job for much longer or a woman to go home to.
Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) is one of New York’s most popular politicians, constantly promising change for the people and the cleaning up of a once broken city. The two cross paths very early in the film and it isn’t until years later that they meet yet again, only this time Billy is investigating Hostetler’s wife and the possibility of her cheating on him.
Or at least that’s what it looks like on the surface. Broken City excels in the story department, because none of the trailers really made it all too clear as to what the film was about or even capable of being about. On the surface you’re given a brief look at both Taggart and Hostetler’s past; or at least a moment that links the two together, but then you’re sped up to current day where Taggart is dragging his knuckles as an unmotivated private eye. Clearly he’s hurting for money, which makes the lucrative, but shady offer from Hostetler all the more acceptable.
Then the film takes a turn down a dark alley that kicks up old secrets and potentially dangerous new ones. Here is where director Allen Hughes shines. Broken City not once feels like an overly complex thriller that relies on the twists to keep you engaged. Instead, the film does pull you around corners rather harshly, but it never expects you to be 100% surprised by what is revealed. You’re only supposed to be slightly impressed and then once that feeling wears away you’re instantly swooped up by either Wahlberg or Crowe.
Both men deliver well-rounded performances that come with an incredible amount of range. Wahlberg does his typical tough-guy stuff, but thankfully Hughes allows him a few moments to let out his inner-Wahlberg, which can only be described as complete insanity. One minute Wahlberg is getting piss drunk and making an ass out of himself in front of his girl and the next he’s suddenly shouting about going nuts and breaking everything in the room. It comes off as dead serious material, but you know that it’s Wahlberg saying it, so it’s instantly hilarious. It’s not distracting, but it’s a 50/50 split of serious Wahlberg and silly Wahlberg. Rarely is this bottled in a film so delicately.
Crowe is much more cold and controlling, like any shady politician and he mostly does that with a straight face. We’ve seen him play demented and manipulative before, but never has he done with such flair.
What sets Broken City apart from other films like it is its fully-functional supporting cast. Alona Tal plays a fairly basic secretary role, yet she takes it and really turns it into something interesting and developed. She establishes an on-screen relationship with Wahlberg’s Taggart and not once does it feel like banter or side-chatter. It’s an actual functioning part of the film that only helps drive the overall plot.
Jeffrey Wright, Kyle Chandler and Catherine Zeta-Jones fill up their roles with some meat too. Not as outstanding as Tal, but just as important when their specific piece of the puzzle comes to play. Every single character has a moment that ties directly with the film’s overall momentum and it’s so rare to see not a single actor drop the ball.
I credit director Allen Hughes for this achievement. He had so many chances to fumble and mess up the film completely, yet he continuously impresses. The ending even proposes a finale that could have been weak and safe, yet Hughes decides to go out with style and he absolutely nails it. It sticks and it makes for a filling piece of cinema.
Broken City captures the political side of New York very well, engaging you in both an action thriller that’s scattered with fist-fights and shootouts, while also easing back and focusing on a story that doesn’t bore or boast to be something better than it actually is. The script is smart enough to keep your mind moving whenever the film takes a pit-stop to introduce another ripple in the ever expanding pool of problems. Eventually Hughes brings it to a halt and he does so with a mature understanding of how to craft such a surprisingly good film.
There’s not enough films out there like Broken City. It borrows its story from many sources, but it justifies itself by still throwing a couple twists at you, while always maintaining an acting standard that is followed throughout by every single member of the on-screen cast. Director Allen Hughes keeps the film from going off the rails or sinking in its own material.
Broken City – 8/10