Seven years after being forced to resign as a New York police officer, private detective Billy Taggart (Wahlberg) takes on his toughest case yet: following the wife (Zeta-Jones) of the city's hard-nosed mayor (Crowe), who's convinced she's cheating on him. But by the time the mayor reveals his true intentions, Billy is already in too deep. Now, with his freedom - and quite possibly his life - on the line, Billy will risk it all in a desperate bid to expose the truth, and seek redemption in a city where second chances don't come cheap.
A good political thriller can work on several levels, pessimistically confirming an audience's worst fears about what goes on behind the curtain, while also offering the satisfaction of seeing the bad guys finally brought to light. The commendably old-fashioned Broken City may occasionally be a bit too retro in its storytelling (An idealistic politician named Valliant? Really?), but it successfully captures that vital feel of cathartic paranoia. Beginning with an intentionally murky flashback, the plot finds a disgraced ex-cop (Mark Wahlberg) barely eking out a living as a New York private investigator. Financial salvation comes a-knocking, however, when the mayor (Russell Crowe) asks him to keep tabs on his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). Things get darker and deeper from there, in true noir fashion. Director Allen Hughes, making his solo debut after years of codirecting with his brother Albert (Menace II Society, The Book of Eli), has clearly studied up on classic New York films, transitioning between seedy back alleys and high-gloss boardrooms with economy and grace. The old-school vibe is further aided by Brian Tucker's script, which doles out plenty of big, chewy dialogue for folks such as Kyle Chandler, Barry Pepper, and the terrific Jeffrey Wright, as a police commissioner with an ear to every door. Broken City's biggest asset, however, proves to be Crowe, who goes all in (and then some) as a monstrously charming guy well aware of the perks of absolute power. If you caught him picking your pocket, you'd somehow end up giving him your watch, too. --Andrew Wright