Movies: "Broken City" | Arts & Culture
“Broken City” is a nifty political thriller with clever writing, a solid cast and scenes of New York City shot so clearly they seem to pop off the screen.
The movie opens with undercover cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) standing over the body of the suspect he has just shot. That incident will cost him his badge. For the next few years, Billy toils as a private eye, shadowing unfaithful spouses with a camera and returning home to his attractive girlfriend (Natalie Martinez), an actress about to appear in her first indy film role. (We are soon treated to a sexy scene from that very movie.)
Then, out of the blue, Billy is summoned to the office of NYC Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe, apparently doing a take on Donald Trump, with a fake tan and a wig that looks like he borrowed it from Elton John). Hostetler is locked in a tight electoral race with challenger Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper, from “True Grit” and “Saving Private Ryan”), and he’s sure his wife (elegant Catherine Zeta-Jones) is cheating on him. He says if this comes out, it could cost him the election.
So like so many private eyes before him (I’m looking at you Jake Gittes), Billy sets off on a ho-hum domestic investigation that will lead him into ever deeper waters. Good thing he’s got a loyal office worker (Alona Tal) on hand to help him dig up documents. Too bad he runs afoul of the Police Commissioner (the great Jeffrey Wright), a political foe of Hostetler. And wouldn’t you know it, some more bodies start piling up.
Among the pleasures of “Broken City” are its set pieces, including the aforementioned movie-within-a-movie and a mayoral debate, pitting the earnest young Valliant against the sly fox Hostetler. It is also a relief to watch a movie in which the homicides are mostly carried out off-camera. No exploding body parts, in fact no explosions at all, except for the emotional kind.
Wahlberg is terrific as the central figure in a plot he can barely discern. Crowe plays it low, but has trouble with his New Yawk accent. Jeffrey Wright is, of course, superb, and it’s nice to see Griffin Dunne (“After Hours”) back on the big screen as one of Hostetler’s chief cronies.
The movie was directed by Allen Hughes, who previously made films with his brother Albert, including the seminal gangsta movie “Menace II Society.” It was scripted by newcomer Brian Tucker. The cinematographer is Ben Seresin, who also shot the 2010 runaway train movie “Unstoppable” and has a wonderful eye for the Big Apple. A compelling music score was created by Atticus and Leopold Ross and Claudia Sarne, who separately wrote the music for “The Book of Eli” and “The Social Network.”
“Broken City” is rated R for its adult situations, some violence and a smattering of sex.
I give it a B-Plus.