Broken City

Broken City

2013, R, 109 min. Directed by Allen Hughes. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler.

REVIEWED By Leah Churner, Fri., Jan. 18, 2013

Allen Hughes’ first feature to direct without his twin brother, Albert, Broken City evokes the sociological breadth and gallows humor of the Hughes Brothers’ early movies, Menace II Society (1993), Dead Presidents (1995) and the 1999 documentary, American Pimp. Wahlberg stars in this private-eye mystery as Billy Taggart, who is not the stealthiest gumshoe in the world. When caught sleuthing, Billy raises a further ruckus by pummeling the witnesses; he can’t grease any palms because he’s broke, and he’s broke because his clients keep giving him the slip on unpaid invoices. So it seems too good to be true when the mayor of New York (Crowe) personally hires Taggart to track down the lover of his wife (Zeta-Jones) two weeks before he runs for re-election. “Stick to the adultery plot – it’s sexier,” jokes the mayor, who knows the P.I. from his former days on the NYPD. But Taggart refuses to limit himself to matters of the boudoir. Naturally, there’s a dead body, an iceberg of corruption, and a cloud of doom looming over third-party innocents.

The role’s a bit boyish for Wahlberg, but the other actors steal the show anyway, particularly Pepper, tight-lipped and hollow-eyed as the incumbent-challenger Valliant, a self-described “rich Connecticut carpetbagger” with a Harvard pedigree and a social conscience; and Wright, subtly saucy here as the cold-blooded police chief, who seems to know a little too much about everything.

The plot, frankly, is a little confusing. Four or five subplots wander off into oblivion, and it’s occasionally hard to tell whether Hughes is winking at cliches or merely adhering to the genre handbook. In the first five minutes, we’re treated to pounding gavels, reporters swarming the courthouse steps, and jolly fat cats cavorting with decanters. But all of this cartoony nonsense must be forgiven, because Hughes manages to accomplish a feat I would have never thought cinematically possible: He creates a white-knuckle scene from a mayoral debate about zoning policy. You could’ve heard a Skittle drop in the packed house screening I attended. That, and Broken City’s terrifyingly realistic car chase – another throwback to vintage Hughes – are alone worth the price of admission.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Allen Hughes Films
The Book of Eli
In a post-apocalyptic time, Denzel Washington is the lone man who carries the world's last remaining Bible.

Marc Savlov, Jan. 22, 2010

New York, I Love You
The central thesis in this ominibus of short films is that New York is not its landmarks or its landscape; New York is its people.

Kimberley Jones, Nov. 6, 2009

More by Leah Churner
Pilot Light
Pilot Light
Previously doomed shows finally air at ATX TV Fest

June 7, 2013

Scatter My Ashes at Bergdorf's
This doc about the storied department store stays relentlessly on-message.

May 24, 2013

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Broken City, Allen Hughes, Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle