On Movies: Wahlberg, Crowe go toe-to-toe in 'Broken City'

In "Broken City," an investigation leads Mark Wahlberg's character, private eye Billy Taggert, into danger, including a car crash. The movie, set in New York, also stars Russell Crowe.
In "Broken City," an investigation leads Mark Wahlberg's character, private eye Billy Taggert, into danger, including a car crash. The movie, set in New York, also stars Russell Crowe. (BARRY WETCHER / SMPSP)
Posted: January 13, 2013

It isn't hard, the first time Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe square off in Broken City, to see that the two stars are enjoying themselves mightily. Wahlberg is a New York cop asked to resign in the wake of a controversial shooting, and Crowe is the mayor asking for his badge. They meet in the mayor's City Hall office - it's a tense, tough exchange, with Jeffrey Wright, another formidable actor, off to one side. But there's clearly an amiable vibe mixed in with the brinkmanship, too.

"Russell didn't come on until week six of production," Wahlberg recalls. "And the first day that he walked onto the set, we were going to shoot that big confrontation, and Allen Hughes, our director, was saying, 'You guys want to rehearse?'

"And we both said no. 'Let's just start throwin' down.' "

And that's what they did.

A tale of political corruption, police violence, power, and greed, Broken City - opening Friday - owes a debt to classics such as The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon and Chinatown. Wahlberg's Billy Taggert leaves the NYPD and sets up shop as a private eye, chasing adulterous spouses, and chasing clients who haven't paid him.

When the mayor calls Taggert back a few years down the line and offers the freelance detective a big check to follow his wife ( Catherine Zeta-Jones), Taggert thinks he's got everything figured out.

Like Humphrey Bogart's and Jack Nicholson's sorry gumshoes, though, it turns out he doesn't have a clue.

"For sure, those are movies I grew up watching with my dad," Wahlberg says, acknowledging that's one of the reasons he went for Broken City - a film he also produced.

"And that's why we were able to attract the talent, because there were so many well-written parts. People really got to sink their teeth into meaty roles."

Wahlberg, along with director Hughes, rolled into town last week for a preview screening of Broken City, and to talk the movie up to local media. Camped out at the Rittenhouse Hotel, Wahlberg rattled off the five films he's shot here over the years: The Italian Job, Invincible (the story of bartender-turned-Eagle Vince Papale), Shooter, The Happening, and The Lovely Bones.

"All Philly films," he says. "Although Italian Job I didn't shoot here, but the film shot here, so that still counts on my resumé."

Nothing if not industrious, Wahlberg has four films set for release in 2013, and more in the works that he'll star in and/or produce for his company, Leverage. He's also executive producer of TV's Entourage (they may make a movie) and Boardwalk Empire.

First up, Broken City. Then in April, it's Pain & Gain, with Wahlberg and Dwayne Johnson as bodybuilders caught in an extortion scheme. Michael Bay directs.

In August, Wahlberg teams with Denzel Washington for 2 Guns, about a DEA agent and a Navy intelligence officer investigating a crime syndicate - and each other. Wahlberg's Contraband director, Baltasar Kormákur, is back barking orders.

And then, slated for December, there's Lone Survivor, based on the true story of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell, part of an ill-fated 2005 mission high in the mountains of Afghanistan's Kunar province. Four SEALs were caught in an ambush - "it's the worst tragedy in the history of the SEALs," says Wahlberg. Eric Bana, Emile Hirsch, and Taylor Kitsch also star, and Peter Berg directs.

"It was a physically demanding movie," says the actor, who shot Lone Survivor in the mountains of New Mexico, which doubled for the peaks of Sawtalo Sar and Gatigal Sar. "And we felt a lot of responsibility in making sure that we did Marcus and those guys some justice . . . .

"And Marcus was there, and a lot of the team guys, the SEALs guys that trained us, were there. So it wasn't like we could phone it in."

Not that Wahlberg is implying he's phoning anything in.

And beyond this year? Look for Wahlberg in Bay's Transformers reboot, in the comedy Avon Man, and, yes, in the sequel to the over-the-top stoner romp Ted. Wahlberg proudly declares that the movie he made with Seth MacFarlane and that foul-mouthed plush toy is the biggest original [as in non-sequel] R-rated comedy of all time.

"It was one of those things where, when I first heard the idea, I was hesitant to even consider reading it," Wahlberg says of Ted, whose central conceit is that a Beantown guy's best friend is his childhood teddy bear, magically come to life and talking up a storm. "It sounded like such a ridiculous idea. My agent was very persistent, but he also represents Seth. So, I understood why. And then I read it, and when I read it, I had the same feeling that I had about Boogie Nights - that this could either be one of the greats, or this could be completely ridiculous. And I met Seth and I was like, 'OK, I'm going to do it.'

"Everybody that I talked to, that I spoke about it with, thought, 'Oh, you're an idiot.' "

Look for Wahlberg and Ted to make a special appearance at the Academy Awards next month. Seriously. Well, seriously but comedically - Wahlberg says that he's onboard to shoot a segment with MacFarlane.

"I have never presented at the Oscars," notes Wahlberg, who was nominated for a supporting actor Academy Award in 2007, for his work in Martin Scorsese's The Departed.

"It's one of those things where if you're nominated, you should go, and if not, you're just getting dressed up to get your picture taken. I'm not that kind of guy."

A few things to look for at the Golden Globes. The Golden Globes, the annual movietown bash sponsored by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is typically a looser, livelier precursor to the more serious and sober Academy Awards show. But now that the Academy has moved up its Oscar nominations announcement to break before the Globes ceremony, Sunday night's shindig takes on an extra contextual significance.

So, if Kathryn Bigelow wins the best director Globe for directing Zero Dark Thirty - and that could happen - it will be a bittersweet win. Expected to be at the front of the pack in the competition for a directing Oscar, Bigelow was a surprise snub as Academy Award nominations were read off early Thursday morn. Ditto if Ben Affleck gets the directing prize for Argo, or Quentin Tarantino for Django Unchained. All three films are now orphaned best-picture Oscar contenders.

And because the Globes split their big acting awards into drama and comedy/musical categories, Jenkintown's Bradley Cooper may actually get a chance at an acceptance speech for his fine work in Silver Linings Playbook. He's the favorite to win among the actors in the comedy or musical category. Daniel Day-Lewis, who is going to win the best actor Oscar for his performance in Lincoln, is in the drama field at the Globes. And he can work out the kinks in his Academy Award speech if he likes.

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com. Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at www.philly.com/onmoviesMovie

Broken City

Opens Friday in area theaters.

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