Skip to main content

You’re cheap to hire and you’re cheaper to throw away.


Broken City
(2013)

Mark Wahlberg has lately proved himself a shrewd judge of material, as both actor and producer. Perhaps he saw Broken City, for which he wears both hats, as a chance to transpose something of (a contemporary version of) the political intrigue and corruption found in his HBO series Boardwalk Empire to the big screen. Unfortunately, this private detective yarn is left flailing in a sea of clichés and undernourished plotting, both in terms of scope of Brian Tucker’s screenplay and the crude machinations of his antagonists.


Wahlberg’s resurgence over the past few years has partially resulted from sticking to the kind of parts that suit him best. So we haven’t seen a repeat of his ill-advised turns in supernatural/fantasy fodder (The Happening, Max Payne, The Lovely Bones), where his what-you-see-is-what-you-get persona proved ill-fitting with the heightened milieu. Instead, he has capitalised on his relatability as a blue-collar guy and a surprisingly skilled deadpan comedian. His bread-and-butter thrillers may not past muster in the company of his Oscar-nominated turn in The Departed, but they deliver on the level of solid, reliable crowd-pleasers. Wahlberg is usually cast as an essentially good guy dealing with a troublesome past. That’s fine in a pacy heist thriller (Contraband) or an action-packed conspiracy yarn (Shooter). Put that type, particularly when he’s in the most fanciful of movie professions (the private detective), in the corridors of power and you really need to bring something more to the table.


There’s a vague acknowledgement that ex-cop Billy Taggart (Wahlberg)’s profession is anachronistic (“Do private eyes still exist?”), but it’s insufficient to counterbalance the very retro intrigue in which he finds himself entangled. Taggart was persuaded to leave the force quietly seven years earlier, following his trial for shooting a murderer-rapist; New York Mayor (this may be New York, but it could be any-movie city USA) Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) buried evidence against Taggart to guarantee a self-defence verdict, but informed him that he will could on his services again. When he does, it’s because he believes that his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is having an affair and he wants Taggart to procure evidence. The Mayor’s re-election campaign is coming up, and the rather straightforward trail of clues leads Taggart to Paul Andrews (Kyle Chandler). Andrews is the campaign manager for Hostetler’s opponent Jack Valiant (Barry Pepper). Taggart soon learns that the Mayor hasn’t been exactly transparent with his reasons for engaging his services.


There are no half-measures with storylines of this ilk; if the construction is insufficiently intricate, and the world lacks a believably murky underbelly, it will prove impossible to sell the conceit. And that’s the problem here. Tucker is probably looking to greats such as Chinatown for his cues on rampant profligacy but ends up making City Hall look like a hard-hitting dissection of the mayoral office. There just aren’t the necessary layers of subterfuge to make the dodgy dealing convincing. And, to locate his information, Taggart has the easiest ride of any detective ever; he just happens to find a box full of evidence next to a dumpster. Lucky, eh? Later, we discover that his quarry has helpfully put his name plain-as-day to the company’s articles of association; this company being the one behind a huge development project. 


Tucker’s script has the feel of a first draft, one where characters have affairs to enable plot twists rather than because their behaviour is remotely believable. When you hear, several times, how Taggart has quit drinking it is tiresomely inevitable that he will fall of the wagon (that he does so with such unintentional hilarity is a surprise, though). The subplot involving his girlfriend’s (Natalie Martinez) appearance in a movie is rather silly and overwrought. Perhaps the makers realised this as she disappears halfway through, never to return.


The moral posturing of the film is curiously indistinct also. Political corruption and big business duplicity is bad, obviously, but the implication is that Taggart’s initial action, even if it was outside the law, was good. He took down one of the scum, Dirty Harry-style, and there is no suggestion that he is contrite when he shows willingness to face the music for what he has done. Indeed, the repeated validation of his action by the family of the victim reinforces the Old Testament judgement meted out by Taggart (Wahlberg, as a Christian, may be endorsing this type of behaviour; who knows?)


That’s about the extent of how provocative this material is, however. Otherwise, it’s heavy-handed every step of the way. Director Allen Hughes, in his first solo effort away from brother Albert, furnishes the visuals with the kind of polish you’d expect, but he also retains a lazy eye for story. He has filled the cast out nicely, but the script limitations ensure this feels like a city with only seven or eight people living in it.


Russell Crowe, Jor-El aside, has made surprisingly little of his supporting turns, and this is no exception. He isn’t the kind of actor who comes on and does a larger-than-life turn, overpowering the picture, like a Hoffman or a Spacey. Ironically, given his early promise in The Insider, he isn’t much of a chameleon either. Here he plasters himself in fake tan and bad hair, but furnishing his character with a distinctive look doesn’t make him any more compelling. Crowe hams it up, but in a rather disinterested manner. For what it’s worth, he and Wahlberg do have reasonable chemistry; it just isn’t in support of anything worthwhile. Across the board, however, there’s a sense that the performers are trying to play big to make up for the spaces between their dialogue and their wafer-thin characters. Zeta-Jones, Pepper, Chandler, Griffin Dunne are all fine, but they’re playing comic strip parts. Jeffrey Wright’s police captain, meanwhile, is plain ridiculous, both on the page and in Wright’s over-exerting performance.


Tucker’s script was part of 2008’s black list of best-unproduced screenplays, which is fairly clear indication that unwarranted hype can open doors. The type of film Wahlberg and Hughes are angling for is commendable (a mainstream thriller with some substance) but the political world it occupies is shallow in conception and uninspired in content.

**

Popular posts from this blog

You were this amazing occidental samurai.

Ricochet (1991) (SPOILERS) You have to wonder at Denzel Washington’s agent at this point in the actor’s career. He’d recently won his first Oscar for Glory , yet followed it with less-than-glorious heart-transplant ghost comedy Heart Condition (Bob Hoskins’ racist cop receives Washington’s dead lawyer’s ticker; a recipe for hijinks!) Not long after, he dipped his tentative toe in the action arena with this Joel Silver production; Denzel has made his share of action fare since, of course, most of it serviceable if unremarkable, but none of it comes near to delivering the schlocky excesses of Ricochet , a movie at once ingenious and risible in its plot permutations, performances and production profligacy.

Well, something’s broke on your daddy’s spaceship.

Apollo 13 (1995) (SPOILERS) The NASA propaganda movie to end all NASA propaganda movies. Their original conception of the perilous Apollo 13 mission deserves due credit in itself; what better way to bolster waning interest in slightly naff perambulations around a TV studio than to manufacture a crisis event, one emphasising the absurd fragility of the alleged non-terrestrial excursions and the indomitable force that is “science” in achieving them? Apollo 13 the lunar mission was tailor made for Apollo 13 the movie version – make believe the make-believe – and who could have been better to lead this fantasy ride than Guantanamo Hanks at his all-American popularity peak?

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

He’ll regret it to his dying day, if ever he lives that long.

The Quiet Man (1952) (SPOILERS) The John Wayne & John Ford film for those who don’t like John Wayne & John Ford films? The Quiet Man takes its cues from Ford’s earlier How Green Was My Valley in terms of, well less Anglophile and Hibernophile and Cambrophile nostalgia respectively for past times, climes and heritage, as Wayne’s pugilist returns to his family seat and stirs up a hot bed of emotions, not least with Maureen O’Hara’s red-headed hothead. The result is a very likeable movie, for all its inculcated Oirishness and studied eccentricity.

The Krishna died of a broken finger? I mean, is that a homicide?

Miami Blues (1990) (SPOILERS) If the ‘90s crime movie formally set out its stall in 1992 with Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs , another movie very quietly got in there first at the beginning of the decade. Miami Blues picked up admiring reviews but went otherwise unnoticed on release, and even now remains under-recognised. The tale of “blithe psychopath” Federick J. Frenger, Jr., the girl whose heart he breaks and the detetive sergeant on his trail, director George Armitage’s adaptation of Charles Willeford’s novel wears a pitch black sense of humour and manages the difficult juggling act of being genuinely touching with it. It’s a little gem of a movie, perfectly formed and concisely told, one that more than deserves to rub shoulders with the better-known entries in its genre. One of the defining characteristics of Willeford’s work, it has been suggested , is that it doesn’t really fit into the crime genre; he comes from an angle of character rather than plot or h

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

You think a monkey knows he’s sitting on top of a rocket that might explode?

The Right Stuff (1983) (SPOILERS) While it certainly more than fulfils the function of a NASA-propaganda picture – as in, it affirms the legitimacy of their activities – The Right Stuff escapes the designation of rote testament reserved for Ron Howard’s later Apollo 13 . Partly because it has such a distinctive personality and attitude. Partly too because of the way it has found its through line, which isn’t so much the “wow” of the Space Race and those picked to be a part of it as it is the personification of that titular quality in someone who wasn’t even in the Mercury programme: Chuck Yaeger (Sam Shephard). I was captivated by The Right Stuff when I first saw it, and even now, with the benefit of knowing-NASA-better – not that the movie is exactly extolling its virtues from the rooftops anyway – I consider it something of a masterpiece, an interrogation of legends that both builds them and tears them down. The latter aspect doubtless not NASA approved.

You tampered with the universe, my friend.

The Music of Chance (1993) (SPOILERS) You won’t find many adaptations of Paul Auster’s novels. Original screenplays, yes, a couple of which he has directed himself. Terry Gilliam has occasionally mentioned Mr. Vertigo as in development. It was in development in 1995 too, when Philip Haas and Auster intended to bring it to the screen. Which means Auster presumably approved of Haas’ work on The Music of Chance (he also cameos). That would be understandable, as it makes for a fine, ambiguous movie, pregnant with meaning yet offering no unequivocal answers, and one that makes several key departures from the book yet crucially maintains a mesmerising, slow-burn lure.

Drank the red. Good for you.

Morbius (2022) (SPOILERS) Generic isn’t necessarily a slur. Not if, by implication, it’s suggestive of the kind of movie made twenty years ago, when the alternative is the kind of super-woke content Disney currently prioritises. Unfortunately, after a reasonable first hour, Morbius descends so resignedly into such unmoderated formula that you’re left with a too-clear image of Sony’s Spider-Verse when it lacks a larger-than-life performer (Tom Hardy, for example) at the centre of any given vehicle.

People still talk about Pandapocalypse 2002.

Turning Red (2022) (SPOILERS) Those wags at Pixar, eh? Yes, the most – actually, the only – impressive thing about Turning Red is the four-tiered wordplay of its title. Thirteen-year-old Mei (Rosalie Chiang) finds herself turning into a large red panda at emotive moments. She is also, simultaneously, riding the crimson wave for the first time. Further, as a teenager, she characteristically suffers from acute embarrassment (mostly due to the actions of her domineering mother Ming Lee, voiced by Sandra Oh). And finally, of course, Turning Red can be seen diligently spreading communist doctrine left, right and centre. To any political sensibility tuning in to Disney+, basically (so ones with either considerable or zero resistance to woke). Take a guess which of these isn’t getting press in reference to the movie? And by a process of elimination is probably what it it’s really about (you know in the same way most Pixars, as far back as Toy Story and Monsters, Inc . can be given an insi