On the eve of an important election, disgraced cop Mark Wahlberg is called into the office of the Mayor of New York (Russell Crowe). As his bills for his detective agency are piling up, Wahlberg reluctantly accepts a simple job to tail the Mayor’s wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and find out who she’s sleeping with. The money is good and the work seems pretty straightforward — but as we know from years of watching movies, things are never that simple.
The set-up is a familiar one: a disgraced private dick is given one last chance at redemption. It’s a well-worn story that’s given a fresh lick of paint by director Allen Hughes (From Hell) and Wahlberg, who also serves as producer. They imbue his character with enough likability to keep things interesting as he begins to discover the dark secrets of the man who hired him.
Broken City’s lineage comes directly from Roman Polanski’s Chinatown, another neo-noir that sees a broken down ex-cop who becomes embroiled in a corruption plot that involves a cash grab by a prominent pillar of society. Crowe’s greasy, charismatic mayor has its genesis in John Huston’s intimidating water baron from Chinatown – all charm and hospitality with a thick undercurrent of menace. Crowe’s character doesn’t necessarily have a lot of depth to him, but it’s still a little more nuanced than the character Wahlberg’s been given.
Marky Mark has come a long way from his days as the leader of The Funky Bunch. He’s proven over time that he’s a dependable lead: he’s isn’t exactly Daniel Day-Lewis when it comes to character work but he’s able to modify his screen persona for a pretty wide range of projects. In Broken City, the repartee with his assistant (Alona Tal) and his scenes with Crowe are all very strong. The zippy dialogue is perhaps the film’s greatest asset. But on the flip side, it’s hard to see the anguish in that we’re constantly told Wahlberg’s character is dealing with. When we arrived at the film’s conclusion, we didn’t feel invested enough to give a damn about what happens to Wahlberg.
In making a film that closely follows the story of Chinatown, they’ve courted comparisons to the definitive film of the genre and have naturally been found a little wanting. Broken City is by no means a bad film; it’s simply a well executed, nuts-and-bolt detective thriller with lofty aspirations it can’t hit. Or, to look at it from another perspective, it’s probably one of the better cop mysteries from the past few years.
Broken City is now available at blinkbox