Reaching back to the film noir vibe of the 1940s, Broken City aspires to be of that style of movie that once starred the likes of Richard Widmark, Humphrey Bogart and a bevy of hard-boiled dames.
Allen Hughes selects two roughnecks for his drama of an honest-but-dumb private eye and a shady mayor with a lot to hide.
Mark Wahlberg is the ex-cop once dumped by his city; Russell Crowe is the thug in a suit who believes his trophy wife is having an affair.
Thus Billy (Wahlberg) is thrust into the intricacies of politicking, dirty business deals, philandering spouses and frustrated rich kids with a closet full of secrets. What he discovers is corruption at all levels and more than a whiff of someone – maybe him – being lined up as a patsy.
Brian Tucker’s script cobbles together tropes from an array of older, better movies and paints them with a patina that gives them a retro feel while setting it resolutely in the present.
Wahlberg dispenses with the raincoat and trilby but there is a definite mode here: he is a throwback to films from a better age. Lurching from one violent revelation to the next he is the audience’s conscience – a fundamentally good man wallowing in filth.
Crowe appears to be easing into middle age, preferring to exude menace through words rather than actions. He’s like a spider, reaching out to test the strands of his mighty web but never leaving his place of sanctuary.
That’s what his minions are for. As his wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones provides distraction to the main plot.
She is a cipher, there to draw Billy into the web. He knows it; eventually so does she. But the web as woven by Tucker eventually unravels.
Allen is unable to inject any real high-value drama into it and both Wahlberg and Crowe bat on a dull wicket.