Broken City review

Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) was an NYPD detective until he took down a suspected rapist, who had walked on a technicality, in shady circumstances. Despite being cleared of murder controversy around the case ends his career in law enforcement, but not before he has received a clap on the back and been called a hero by Mayor Hostetler (Crowe). Some years later, Taggart  is a sleazy private dick trying to photograph husbands or wives engaged in carnal activities with people other than their spouses. He’s struggling to pay the overheads on his shabby office and the wages of his acid tongued secretary (a winning performance by Tal).

Then he gets a call from Mayor Hostetler. Rather than the staff position he had hopes for, Hostetler wants him to investigate his wife (Zeta Jones) whom he suspects of having an affair with the campaign manager (Chandler) of political rival Jack Valiant (Pepper). It will come as no surprise to hear that Taggart's investigation will lead more than he bargains for.

Honestly, Broken City is much better than its toxic US reception would indicate. For some reason a lot of the negativity seems to come from the expectation that this would be akin to a top flight Sidney Lumet film. And indeed, when viewed in those terms it's extremely wanting. However it isn't that at all, rather it is the filmic equivalent of a chunky airport novel. Disposable and generic, but entertaining with it. The film plays to Wahlberg's strengths giving him plenty of cynical one liners, and Crowe is a decent sporting an hilarious Donald Trump-esque haircut. But really, critics expected a film featuring a politician named Jack Valiant to be serious?

Directed with glossy efficiency by Hughes (going it alone from his brother Albert) and with a knowingly cheesy script from Tucker (his first screen credit), this is a film that piles on plot twists and double crossings. It's an example of the sort of high rent neo-noir that were once a studio staple in the eighties and nineties. Street grit is contrasted with mahogany-clad Park Avenue apartments. The plot is thickly sliced from a joint of glazed Esterhas gammon, but peppered with a good amount of zingy dialogue that is reminiscent of Richard Price at his pulpiest. I laughed more than I have at most recent comedies, although giving the lead character the surname Taggart produced at least one unfortunate guffaw among the gathering of British bloggers I saw it with.

It's a decent piece of Friday night entertainment. Just don’t expect Serpico.

Broken City at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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