A flawed but watchable political noir starring Mark Wahlberg and Russell Crowe
Allen Hughes, who along with his brother Albert, made such bold, flawed, feisty works as Menace II Society, Dead Presidents and From Hell, makes his first solo fiction outing with this over-complicated but sporadically effective contemporary noir.
Mark Wahlberg plays the central broken-down PI. Taggart (yes, that name does provide the odd giggle for Scottish viewers) who has the requisite chequered past (his career as a cop ended when he deliberately killed a cleared suspect he believed to be guilty), troubled relationship (his girlfriend’s burgeoning acting career stirs his jealousy) and historical drinking problem. And when the Mayor who helped him out with his previous problems (Russell Crowe) calls on him to investigate the possible infidelity of his wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones), he finds himself drawn into a sticky web of sexual and political corruption.
It’s unfortunate that Wahlberg, being Wahlberg, can only play this in that one way that he has: wide-eyed macho doofus. Endearing he can be: Robert Mitchum he is not. The film doesn’t help him much, appearing singularly confused as to whether it wants us to sympathise with him or regard him with suspicion. Early on, large tracts of screen time are spent on asking us to chuckle at Taggart’s wayward, bad-boy ways, not to mention his homophobia – of which seems like undue misdirection once things get serious later on.
The plot is smart enough at picking back the lies and protective measures that crust over weaknesses and flaws – think of a less perfunctory-feeling, more nuanced take on the territory of The Ides of March. But the characterisation falters here, with baddies – Crowe’s monstrous power monger in particular – painted too dark to feel at all real, and other characters prone to inexplicable lapses in judgment. Still, forgive some misconceived scenes and weird directorial decisions, and there’s enough charisma and intrigue onscreen for a decent wallow in wickedness.
Limited release from Fri 1 Mar.