No city is without its share of deceit and corruption. Humans are complicated animals who’ll do whatever they can to survive –even break the rules. Director Allen Hughes‘ latest movie Broken City deals with how desperate people can become in order to maintain their reputation. Since he wasn’t collaborating with brother Albert Hughes, Allen’s unique directing style stood out. While talking to the filmmaker, we learned about the shoot, the cast and that time Mark Wahlberg bumped heads with some cops.
You’ve been very busy as of late. What have you been up to, just promoting the film?
Allen Hughes: No. I went to Europe to do a Häagen-Dasz commercial with Bradley Cooper. The second I finished that job I met with Mark Wahlberg in Chicago and we went on a week and a half publicity tour in five different cities.
That’s really cool.
Allen Hughes: That’s really hectic!
Yeah, well, that’s the life.
Allen Hughes: That’s true, and I appreciate it.
I consider you as a director who carefully chooses the films he does. What was it about the script for Broken City that stood out for you? Was it the hero, the layers of corruption or what?
Allen Hughes: A little bit of everything. I started reading it and I was like whoa, this s–t is deep. It’s a great story, great characters, look at this g–damn plot twist. I thought it was going this way but it was going that way. Eventually, it was like drinking a very complex glass of wine. I was looking to step my game up as a mature adult and this really stood out for me.
Your directing style certainly stands out throughout the film.
Allen Hughes: I don’t even know which parts stood out. Which ones did for you?
There were a couple shots that had to do with the bridge. I figured if you looked at it a certain way, it symbolized the downward spiral Wahlberg’s character was going through. There’s one where you’re looking at the bridge and it looks like you’re falling down but you’re not. It leads to one of the pivotal down points for him.
Allen Hughes: You’re the first one to actually figure out what it was. When I was shooting that shot of the bridge, I was like think about one thing, Billy Taggert, thinking about how he feels. Then I just started pointing the camera up. I was coming out of Grand Central, coming off of the bridge and just pointing up. Those shots you’re referring to in particular, they’re oppression shots that make you feel almost as if you’re drowning. And that’s when I was like okay, I haven’t quite seen this before.
Yes, I’m glad that I was right!
Allen Hughes: Yeah, you’re the only one so we’ll see what happens. That was by design, and it looks cool, but you’ll never know. It’ll be interesting to see what people take away from the movie.
Broken City has an impressive cast. There’s one big name after another. Were there any instances where you sat back and let them work their acting magic?
Allen Hughes: Well I’ve always looked at it this way: There’s Kyle Chandler, Barry Pepper, Jeffrey Wright, Russell Crowe and Mark Wahlberg. They’re just so high-level and they don’t audition so they have lunches, dinners or a phone call in which you get to know who they are. [You] see if you’re in sync and can get a bit of a creative kinship there. Then I want to see what they’ve got. My first instinct is that we talk about it. I don’t want to confine them. I want to see what they do because some great actors are great storytellers. They’re the ones who bring the flesh to a character.
Did you have a lot of input with the script or was it all laid out when you came on board?
Allen Hughes: The story was there. Brian Tucker is an amazing writer, but as with every movie, you add things or take things away or change things based on how the actors play it. In this case, you’ve got a wonderful actor in Mark Wahlberg who’s able to ad-lib funny things and also just improvise tragic things. Like when he was walking through the streets of East Village just destroyed. He got in that fist fight with that random guy, drinking that 40 and throwing it at the car. We only put a little of it in the movie but he took two hours tearing that whole place down. The cops and the mayor got involved. On page it read as ‘Billy walks down the street drunk.’ Mark and I were like you know what, this guy is drunk after seven years of being sober, making an ass out of himself at his girlfriend’s premiere party, her first real film. This is bigger than that. So Mark is so good at that stuff.
Wait, the cops got involved? That’s crazy.
Allen Hughes: Yeah, it was crazy. [laughs] That little short section of the fist fight, they were really fist-fighting. I mean it was scary.
It’s always great watching actors bob in and out of comedy and drama. The range that this cast has is amazing.
Allen Hughes: Especially to see Russell play a charismatic character. I don’t think I’ve seen him play such a charismatic character. He’s playing clever, physical characters like in Gladiator, but I was really looking forward to see if he could play a charismatic, colorful political figure. Turns out he is a very charismatic person. He’s a genius, charismatic person who’s on another level. So he was finally doing something that I haven’t seen before and that was fun.
I was slightly mesmerized by the spray tan on him, which added more to the character.
Allen Hughes: It’s like the Republicans. They always do that s–t.
It’s funny because after I got out of the movie I thought “Isn’t he getting tanner and tanner as the movie goes along?”
Allen Hughes: As he gets closer to the debate, yes. That’s how brilliant he is. Just like those guys preparing, as it gets closer to TV time and debate time, they start to tan all of a sudden.
The movie obviously deals with corruption, hence the title. Do you feel like there are many Mr. Valliant (Barry Pepper) characters out there or too many Mr. Hostetler’s (Crowe) taking over?
Allen Hughes: That’s an interesting dynamic there because you’re looking at something where you’re figuring out who’s the better politician and who’s the better candidate. More times than not, the better politician wins over the better human being. In this case, you saw it in the debate with Valliant’s character. He really was connecting with issues and was wearing his heart on his sleeve. It’s difficult for a person like that to make it into politics. Even with Barack Obama, when he initially connected with the people, he wasn’t emotional. He was pretty impeccable. Even so much so with that first debate, he got away with doing nothing.
True. Another part that stood out of the movie was the score.
Allen Hughes: Yeah, Atticus [Ross] is insane great. You know, I’m excited because the first narrative he scored was a show I did almost 10 years ago called Touching Evil. There was a lot of talent that came out of that show. Bradley Cooper was on it, Vera Farmiga was on it, my man Jeffrey Donovan was on it who’s on Burn Notice. They all started right there. When The Book of Eli came up, I handed it right to him, but that was a different tone. We were doing a post-apocalyptic thing and he really did a great job on that. Getting back on this, starting what we did on Touching Evil, we’re carving on the character, mood and vibe, the interesting journey and music. I was like wait till you hear the soundtrack. It takes the elements of the movies out of sync but by itself, it sounds like a rock album. It sounds like Pink Floyd. It’s a journey. It’s a real soundtrack.
Now I’m just curious, how does it take three weeks to shoot a Häagen-Dasz commercial?
Allen Hughes: Oh, it’s funny because it doesn’t. There’s only two days to shoot it but since I was sandwiched in between the Christmas holiday and New Year’s, I couldn’t fly back home because the turnaround is so quick. It was insanely difficult. It was cold, snowing out there. It was insane but Bradley was going out in that snow and it was like oh my God. He is just amazing.
Broken City comes out in theaters everywhere on January 18.