Maybe it’s time to put the idea of bad movies being dumped into January release dates to a rest. This crime drama, which explores the nastiness and sleaziness bubbling just below the surface of New York politics and police departments, is both an actors’ showcase and a crackling good story.
In the midst of a look at a tight mayoral race between the longtime incumbent Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) and the upstart, much younger rich guy, Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), we get tales of murder and cover-ups and cheating and various other illegal and immoral activities.
Detective Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) was forced to take a fall seven years ago and has since opened up his own private investigator agency. All is going fine for him and his lone assistant, the ditzy but hard-working Katy (Alona Tal). Well except for the fact that his clients aren’t paying him on time. But a call from the mayor, who all those years ago made him step down, brings him some much-needed cash … if he’ll use his P.I. camera to find out who’s sleeping with the mayor’s wife, Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
So begins a series of stories that starts in one unassuming place, leads to another, connects a fact here and there, then proceeds to fire out a succession of them, loading up the script – from first-timer Brian Tucker – with one surprise after another.
But on top of this plethora of plot twists is the added factor that we get to see a parade of characters that not only dislike each other, if some of them had their way, they would have their nemeses rubbed out.
Remember, we’re dealing with cops and politicians here. Oh, wait, we’re also dealing with husbands and wives, and boyfriends and girlfriends, and fathers and sons. It’s rare to see a film so chock full of hatred among both main and minor characters. But it makes for some intriguing viewing, and listening, as practically every bit of dialogue is sharp and believable.
A quick warning for those with delicate ears: There’s lots of salty language. There’s also some harsh violence, but more is threatened than actually committed onscreen. And, for good measure, we get a brief car chase.
Wahlberg has a terrific turn here, showing many sides of his character, generously sharing Taggart’s strengths and weaknesses. Crowe more than makes up for his wooden performance in “Les Miserables” with a combination of laidback appeal and quiet intimidation and, by the way, a heck of a New York accent. Zeta-Jones’ Cathleen is one of the most complicated characters in the film, and she plays it well. It’s too bad that she isn’t given a bit more screen time to flesh it out even more.
Page 2 of 2 - The film’s strongest point is its plentiful supply of secrets, and how they’re eventually revealed. Most movies as hardboiled as this one would save something like that for a big ending. But in “Broken City,” they seem to come flying out every quarter hour or so. Characters here have their own secrets, they’re keeping secrets of others, and some even hide secrets from those who have secrets. But don’t worry. There are plenty left for a nicely played, out-of-the-blue ending.
Ed Symkus covers movies for GateHouse Media.
Written by Brian Tucker; directed by Allen Hughes
Twentieth Century Fox Rated R
With Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Jeffrey Wright, Catherine Zeta-Jones