Broken City

Directed by Allen Hughes. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler 15A cert, general release, 109 min

Directed by Allen Hughes. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler 15A cert, general release, 109 min


Directed by Allen Hughes. Starring Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones, Jeffrey Wright, Barry Pepper, Kyle Chandler 15A cert, general release, 109 min

The stars go mano-a-mano in this enjoyably over-the-top melodrama, writes DONALD CLARKE

Wahlberg and Crowe. Together at last. So overwhelming. Can’t breathe for testosterone. Can’t even write complete sentences.

Yes, indeed. Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg, two men who make the rest of us seem like, well, women, have finally come together to growl angrily at one another. Can they really talk like that in real life? Crowe, in particular, sounds as if he prepared for the role by shouting into a violent gale for an entire week. You just long to give the poor man a cough drop.

Ha! Lozenges are for fairies. Look at New York mayor Crowe. He’s summoned officer Wahlberg into his office to discuss the cop’s recent slaying of a rapist. He’s swilling around whiskey and offering grunted profanities.

It’s never made clear what party Crowe serves, but his main affiliation is to a school of alpha-male politics that has, in recent years, been whittled away by such un-American concerns as compassion, openness and tolerance. At no point in the film does anybody raise any serious moral concerns about Wahlberg’s summary execution of the sexual predator.

The mayor and his police commissioner – played with a different, more slippery class of manly manliness by Jeffrey Wright – arrange for Wahlberg to be set free, but are unable to keep their man on the force. We then flash-forward several years to find further intrigue afoot.

Broken City is the first feature directed by Allen Hughes without the assistance of his brother Albert. The two men have had a most peculiar career. Every film they’ve made combines brilliant moments with annoying, unnecessary outbreaks of stupidity. View Menace II Society, From Hell and The Book of Eli for further evidence.

Broken City continues the tradition. It has a sombre atmosphere that nicely echoes the moral morass at the heart of the narrative. The plot goes to some interesting places. But we are never quite clear where the film-makers stand on the two leads’ embrace of caveman morality.

In the supposed present, Wahlberg has found a job as a private detective. This means, essentially, he is a debt collector and personal paparazzo. Operating out of a Brooklyn office – and assisted by a ballsy dame with a mouth on her – he spends his time roughing up small-time hoods and taking snaps of wandering spouses.

One day, his old pal the mayor summons him in for a growl about his own marital difficulties. Mrs Crowe (an impressively regal Catherine Zeta Jones) seems to be carrying on an affair, and her husband wants all the skinny. Wahlberg sets out with his camera.

All kinds of other stuff is happening in a plot that can never quite settle down and stop its nervous fidgeting. Wahlberg, off the wagon after a period of drunkenness, isn’t entirely sure about his girlfriend’s decision to appear in a mildly raunchy independent film. The excellent Barry Pepper plays a liberal rival who hopes to counter the mayor’s butch bluster with some old-school Kennedy rhetoric

It would be nice to say that it all comes together in a concentrated moment of narrative release. That’s not quite the case. This strand gets left hanging. That subplot is left to fester. Eventually, Wahlberg and Crowe get to press nose to nose and indulge in some properly professional growling.

There are suggestions of Harold Becker’s City Hall (1996) in the film’s concern with a charismatic, flawed mayor. Broken City isn’t quite as ordered as that Al Pacino vehicle, but it’s a great deal more fun.

On his recent, notoriously well- lubricated appearance on Graham Norton, Wahlberg, also a producer, claimed that he had first offered his role in Broken City to Michael Fassbender. The Kerryman was wise to decline. This class of film doesn’t require actors; it requires walking tubs of man. All other films are girly-films.

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