Broken City
dir Allen Hughes
scr Brian Tucker
prd Remington Chase, Randall Emmett, George Furla, Allen Hughes, Stephen Levinson, Arnon Milchan, Teddy Schwarzman, Mark Wahlberg
with Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Alona Tal, Natalie Martinez, Michael Beach, Kyle Chandler, James Ransone, Griffin Dunne, Britney Theriot
release US 18.Jan.13, UK 1.Mar.13
13/US 1h49
Broken City
Power play: Crowe and Wahlberg

zeta-jones wright pepper
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Broken City An old-style potboiler, this film plays with ideas of morality and political ambition without grappling with any of it. But director Hughes injects tension and style into the proceedings, and he lets the actors merrily chew on the scenery, even if the characters never have much depth and the plot refuses to draw us in.

Seven years after being accused and cleared of murder, ex-cop Billy (Wahlberg) works as a low-rent New York private eye. Out of the blue, Mayor Hostetler (Crowe) hires him to find out who his wife (Zeta-Jones) is having an affair with before it derails his re-election campaign against passionate rising star Valliant (Pepper). But as Billy digs deeper into the situation, he discovers that there's more than meets the eye. So even when he completes his job, he continues to poke around. Which ruffles a lot of powerful feathers.

There are plenty of interesting things going on here, from eccentric relationships to shady dealings, but the plot narrows in on a property-development aspect that couldn't be duller if it tried. Even as the twisty details emerge, it's impossible to drum up interest when we'd rather know how Billy is going to get over his hot-headed macho stupidity to patch up the relationship with his long-time girlfriend (Martinez).

But director Hughes seems utterly uninterested in this and other promising storylines, abandoning them in lieu of the less-compelling political wrangling. Which removes any interesting character layers. Crowe merely glowers and barks orders, while Pepper looks perpetually on the verge of tears (we find out why, but only just). Zeta-Jones and Wright barely have characters to play at all. Which leaves Walhberg to carry the whole movie.

He does this nicely, making Billy an intriguing mess even if we don't believe his inane over-reactions. Not to mention his ability to drink a bottle of whiskey after seven years on the wagon to no noticeable affect. Also, the action takes place in the last week of October 2012, which we now know was marked by a natural rather than political super-storm. But never mind, Hughes has a strong sense of light and shadow and makes smart use of sets and settings. So even if there's nothing to it, the movie at least looks good.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 10.Jan.13

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© 2013 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall