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‘Broken City’ makes viewers look in mirror

Gritty crime drama marks ‘Hughes Brothers’ solo debut

By Ronda Racha Penrice Travel & Entertainment Writer | 1/18/2013, 11:30 a.m.
Allen Hughes of Hughes Brothers film fame marks his solo directorial debut in the gritty crime drama, “Broken City,” starring Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Jeffrey Wright and Catherine Zeta-Jones. (Courtesy photos).

ATLANTA – Menace II Society put the dynamic film duo the Hughes Brothers on Hollywood’s radar. At the time, a director duo like twins Allen and Albert Hughes was far from common, and, still isn’t today, but, along the way, Hollywood and moviegoers got used to it.

So it’s noteworthy that “Broken City,” the new film starring Russell Crowe, Mark Wahlberg, Jeffrey Wright and Catherine Zeta-Jones, is only directed by Allen Hughes, the first film either of the twins has directed solo.

During a promotional stop in Atlanta, Hughes spoke to The Atlanta Voice about the gritty, political film and talked about why he broke from his brother to make the movie.

Set in New York City, Russell Crowe plays crooked Mayor Hostetler who hires former cop-turned-private investigator Billy Taggart (played by Wahlberg) to prove that his wife Cathleen (played by Zeta-Jones), is having an affair. Along the way, the private eye uncovers a much bigger scandal that threatens the lives and livelihoods of many of the film’s main characters.

“I think the main thing with Broken City is that the true definition of justice is a blurry definition,” Hughes said. “Throughout all my work with my brother, too, [one main theme has been] let’s make us all look in the mirror.”

But Hughes is directing this crime drama by himself, a transition he and his brother had been looking to make for a long time, he said. Hughes said the script, written by African-American screenwriter Brian Tucker, is what really got him.

“When you have a great script, you don’t want to distract people away from a great narrative and great characters. Brian Tucker’s script was that powerful,” he told The Voice. “I just needed to sit back and make sure I cast this right and make correct decisions.”

Casting the film right meant enlisting not just Wahlberg, Crowe and Jones, but Wright as well. But it wasn’t easy.

“Jeffrey is like that elusive, mysterious guy… He kind of does his own thing. You’ll see him every now and then, Hughes said. “Everyone knows he’s Jeffrey the great. He’s the guy that is holding it down in New York theater.

“But he’s very elusive. He slips through your fingers. You don’t know if you’re going to get him and everyone respects him so,” Hughes added. “When I first spoke with him, he was touch and go.”

Interestingly, Hughes was concerned that the ambiguity of the police chief, Commissioner Carl Fairbanks, would be an issue for Wright.

“The one thing I didn’t like about the role and that I was insecure about with that role is the mystery,” Hughes admitted. “I didn’t know where Commissioner Fairbanks stood and Jeffrey [was] like, ‘No, no I like that mystery.’ ”

Another great score for Hughes was landing veteran actor Michael Beach. Baech is perhaps best known to black audiences as Angela Bassett’s cheating husband in “Waiting to Exhale” or playing the same for Vanessa Williams in the film version of “Soul Food,” despite distinguishing himself in such standout roles like Al Boulet on “ER,” Monte Parker on “Third Watch” and, most recently, T.O. Cross on “Sons of Anarchy.”

For Hughes, Beach taking the small role of cop Tony Jansen was huge.

“He is one of those smart actors that knew it was a small part and came very humble, great,” Hughes explained. “And see, filmmakers like me go, ‘Man, I can’t wait to work with him and put him in something greater because he is such a great actor.’ He did that movie “One False Move” that we all forget about. He’s great. I can’t wait to work with him again.”

Hughes began making films with his twin brother when they were teenagers growing up with their Armenian American mother in California. Directing music videos for West Coast rappers like Tone Loc and the legendary Tupac Shakur led to the Hughes Brothers directing their first film Menace II Society.

Since then, they have directed “Dead Presidents” and, most recently, “The Book of Eli” starring Denzel Washington, among others.

Looking back 20 years after “Menace II Society,” Hughes said, “I feel like for me this movie is the bookend to Menace II Society in that it does have that theme of whether you can redeem what you’ve done wrong in the past or whether you’ve done too much…”