Editor's note: "Broken City" was not previewed for Pittsburgh critics.
Russell Crowe does a lot of smirking (but no singing, thank you) in "Broken City," a noirish thriller in which the beefy star sports a bespoke wardrobe, nifty reading glasses, and the look of a man accustomed to getting his way. He is, after all, the mayor of New York, and he seems far more at ease than he does as Javert in "Les Miserables."
With shades of Dashiell Hammett (corrupt pols, an in-over-his-head gumshoe, a mysterious dame, etc.), "Broken City" pits Mr. Crowe's Nick Hostetler against Mark Wahlberg's Billy Taggart, a fallen cop-turned-private-eye hired to follow his honor's wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones).
3 stars = Good
Mark Wahlberg, Russell Crowe, Catherine Zeta-Jones.
R for pervasive language, some sexual content and violence.
The mayor says she's having an affair. He wants proof. So down these mean streets Billy must go, looking for adulterers but really looking for redemption.
Directed by Allen Hughes (the first solo job from the co-director, who worked with his twin brother, Albert, on "Menace II Society," "Dead Presidents" and "The Book of Eli") from a screenplay by Brian Tucker, "Broken City" has a nice old-school vibe. Even an instrument of blackmail -- an incriminating video -- turns out to be recorded on a VHS tape. Quaint!
Billy operates from an office with a pebbled-glass door and a phone that's used mostly to harass deadbeat clients. He has a moony-eyed Gal Friday (Alona Tal) and a girlfriend, Natalie (Natalie Martinez), who's an indie film actress waiting for her big break.
It was in pursuit of Natalie's sister's killer that Billy compromised his NYPD career. "Broken City" begins with a flashback to Billy shooting a man already down on the ground -- unarmed. The movie is about power and justice, and also the misuse of power, about injustice.
With a squad of able supporting players -- Jeffrey Wright (as the police commissioner), Barry Pepper (a rival candidate for mayor) and Kyle Chandler (the candidate's aide) among them -- "Broken City" rises above its B-movie pedigree.
The side stories work well and show Billy as a more complicated and tormented dude, as in an encounter on the Long Island Railroad, when Mr. Chandler's character starts chatting up the stranger behind him (it's Billy, tailing him to Montauk), or in a visit to the housing projects where Natalie and her sister grew up and where the girls' parents live, still thankful for Billy's act of vengeance.
Mr. Wahlberg does what Mr. Wahlberg does, bringing muscular conviction to his troubled tough guy role. The city may be broken, but the movie star's formula is working fine.
First Published January 18, 2013 5:00 AM