We don’t need serpentine thrillers such as Broken City to remind us that politics is a grubby business.
As recent headlines attest, elected authority figures who we trust to shape and reform our laws can occasionally ride roughshod over those same rules and regulations.
Allen Hughes’s film argues that to affect lasting change in the corridors of power, you have to be prepared to get your hands bloody.
Or pay someone else to get their money-grabbing mitts filthy on your behalf.
It’s a parable for our corrupt, power-hungry times.
The anti-hero in Broken City is New York cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), who takes down an unarmed suspect and faces a prison sentence for his apparent lapse in judgment.
It looks like an open and shut case until popular Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) steps in with a deal, making clear to Billy that he expects a favour in return.
Seven years later, Billy is a low-rent private detective.
He owes 42,000 dollars – the situation is dire, even with a brilliant assistant (Alona Tal) chasing up outstanding bills.
Out of the blue, Hostetler calls in his marker: he asks Billy to gather evidence to prove that his wife Cathleen (Catherine Zeta-Jones) has been unfaithful.
“When you called, I didn’t think it would be for something like this,” Billy tells the Mayor.
“Neither did I,” growls Hostetler, who is embroiled in a bitter election battle with charismatic rival Jack Valliant (Barry Pepper), and doesn’t want a marital scandal to blight his chances with the electorate.
A simple surveillance operation reveals a hotel room liaison between Cathleen and Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler), manager of the Valliant campaign.
Her betrayal seems clear, then Andrews is murdered and Billy grapples with the chilling probability that he signed the campaign manager’s death warrant.
Broken City marshals an impressive cast and Brian Tucker’s script sustains dramatic tension for the opening hour by teasing us with the characters’ ulterior motives.
“You think you’re investigating adultery?” spits Zeta-Jones’s slinky spouse, setting alarm bells ringing.
Wahlberg goes through the motions as the pawn in a deadly game he doesn’t understand until it is too late, but Crowe savours his opportunity to chew on scenery as the man in power who won’t give up his crown easily.
Their big showdown is rather one-sided – Crowe spits venom all over his co-star - but plot mechanics and technology come to Wahlberg’s rescue in the final reckoning.
Despite the neat premise, Tucker’s script becomes increasingly preposterous and is peppered with surreal one-liners that masquerade as gritty street talk.
“I’m taking him down like a caged monkey!” shrieks one character; “Help me or you’re sucking on bananas too!” threatens another.
Star Rating: 3/5