x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Broken City: A-the-numbers corruption thriller

Mark Wahlberg's and Russell Crowe's performances are what save this movie.

Mark Wahlberg stars as the private investigator Billy Taggart, who tries to uncover big-city corruption. Photo by Barry Wetcher
Mark Wahlberg stars as the private investigator Billy Taggart, who tries to uncover big-city corruption. Photo by Barry Wetcher

Broken City
Director: Allen Hughes
Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones
***

As seen through the eyes of the ex-cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), New York City is pretty bleak and definitely broken. Seven years after being dismissed from the force after shooting a man dead in questionable circumstances, Taggart scrapes a living as a private detective.

So when the city's Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) calls, Taggart jumps to attention. Hostetler wants to know if his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair and with whom, saying that such a revelation will hinder his re-election campaign. Of course, it's not as simple as all that, and soon Taggart finds himself in a web of intrigue involving not only the Hostetlers but also the rival mayoral candidate and the police commissioner (Jeffrey Wright), who seems to know more than he is letting on.

Essentially a by-the-numbers corruption thriller, Broken City certainly looks gritty and has some sharp moments, including the meetings between the mayor and detective, Billy's shop talk with his weary assistant (Alona Tai) and an uncomfortable moment when Billy discovers just what his actress girlfriend means by "love scene" in her new independent movie. But while the director Allen Hughes, making his first movie as director without his brother Albert, keeps things punchy, he is let down by the script (from the first-time writer Brian Tucker), which lacks the layers of other cover-up movies and often races to find resolutions, losing credibility along the way. Some characters get forgotten, others don't get enough screen time and some plot points are just too convenient, such as when Billy goes looking for evidence and finds just what he needs in the first cardboard box he looks in, sitting handily atop a pile of hundreds ready for the rubbish collection.

But the two central performances ultimately save the movie. Crowe, gruff, calculating and a bit shifty, is convincing as the man who justifies his methods as for the greater good (or his greater good, at least), even if his accent wavers and he seems to turn a brighter shade of orange as the movie progresses (whatever brand of fake tan he is using should be removed from the shelves immediately).

Best of all, though, is Wahlberg, perfect as the determined, always-one-step-behind underdog, who makes Taggart a man you want to spend time with and root for, even when you're not completely sure he's as good a guy as we hope he is.