Broken City | Movie review
Mark Wahlberg’s blue-collar dick takes on Russell Crowe’s fat-cat politician.
Though just about anything would have been preferable to his stiff, warbling turn in last month’s Les Misérables, there’s real pleasure in watching Russell Crowe throw himself into the zesty role of a crooked New York politician. Bloombergian only in his wealth, Crowe’s Mayor Hostetler is an oily, two-faced scoundrel—the kind of fat-cat foe Hollywood is churning out a lot these Occupy-minded days. Broken City, a political thriller that’s never quite as smart as you wish it were, pits this scheming 1-percenter against a working-class adversary: disgraced detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), who—seven years after gunning down a freed rapist—now works as a private eye. Hired to spy on Hostetler’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), whom the mayor suspects of infidelity, our hero uncovers a deeper conspiracy involving an upcoming election and a massive real-estate scam.
Noir in narrative, if not aesthetic, Broken City trots out familiar genre components: Wahlberg’s character is essentially a blue-collar Sam Spade, complete with spunky Girl Friday (Alona Tal), while the plot contains echoes of Chinatown. (There’s also an alcohol-fueled, dark-night-of-the-soul sequence that’s one saxophone solo away from unintentional parody.) Menace II Society director Allen Hughes, working for once without brother Albert, has a flair for barbed verbal showdowns. You just wish he were serving better material. The ethics here are especially murky: Anti-corruption but pro-vigilantism, Broken City never asks its protagonist to repent for the blood on his own hands. What’s more, while the film treats a secret gay romance with sensitivity, it also includes a scene in which Wahlberg righteously rails against the “metrosexual” friends of his actress girlfriend (Natalie Martinez). What, are Village hipster artists not included in the 99 percent?