Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe star in this lukewarm thriller, which sees Wahlberg’s perma-frowning private eye Billy Taggart take Crowe’s corrupt mayor Nicholas Hostedler when a property scandal threatens the residents of New York’s Bolton Village.
When Billy is hired by Nicholas to investigate his wife Cathleen (a chilly and underused Catherine Zeta Jones) whom he suspects of cheating, Billy is pulled into into a world of political scandal and murder which leaves his integrity and his freedom in the balance.
Broken City tries to be a slick and gritty drama, complete with clandestine meetings on bridges and shady characters in each other’s pockets. Unfortunately, it ends up looking more like a film that wouldn’t look out of place on Channel 5’s Saturday night, post-pub viewing schedule. Maybe after a Steven Seagal film.
The dialogue is overly keen to make sure we are aware Broken City is a wrong-side-of-the-tracks drama, with Billy and his smitten assistant Katy (Alona Tal) effing and blinding at every opportunity. Even a broken wing mirror is an excuse to swear.
Wahlberg gives it his best shot – eyebrows and all – and continues to prove himself to be a solid actor, but it’s nothing we haven’t seen before. He gives similarly furious performances in both Contraband and Four Brothers.
Barry Pepper, playing Hostedler’s adversary Jack Valliant, comes away as the most sympathetic character – starting the film as a goody-two-shoes foil to Hostedler, and ending it as a bleary-eyed and heartbroken man.
But the star of the show here is Crowe, who gives a blistering performance as the dastardly politician. On the surface he is well coiffed and perma-tanned, but you get the sense of a dangerous temper and violent nature simmering underneath.
In a tense showdown with Billy towards the close of the film, Crowe’s expression is unreadable, but all the time, ever so slightly as his wrongdoings are laid out for him, his eye twitches, giving a hint of that malevolence. It is a simple move but he acts Wahlberg out of the room.
Some genuine laugh-out-loud moments save Broken City from getting a two-star rating, but one standout performance doesn’t save this film from being anything more than just watchable.
Released in UK cinemas on Friday 1 March 2013.