Having just endured another election year, we’re all too aware of wheedling
politicians and their wheezing lackeys. We’re not even surprised to hear
about bureaucratic shenanigans and fiefdom intrigue. But we’re all hoping
that eventually, the real scoundrels will make themselves known simply by
continuing to be themselves. “By their fruits you shall know them”
(Matthew 7:20), and all that.
Mayor Hostetler (Russell Crowe) is just the sort of hard-driving, cosmopolitan
politician we would expect from a modern metropolis like New York City:
handsome and charming enough to be appealing on television, yet tough enough
to endure the back room political brawls, and not so naďve as to believe
everything he hears, or even his own press releases. But this particular Mayor
has a number of dirty tricks up his sleeve, and in order to rule over that
shadowy empire of influence, he has to develop a cadre of certain unscrupulous
minions who can be absolutely trusted, if for no other reason than he has
something on them.
Mark Wahlberg plays Billy Taggart, the undercover cop who several years ago
was acquitted of the white-on-black street shooting that brought all kinds of
unwelcome publicity to the NYPD. After the big trial, he didn’t even bother
to return to the police force; instead opting to remain in the seamy
underside, private detective, purveyor of voyeurism with a purpose. Yes,
he’ll hire out to catch philandering spouses on camera. And our crafty
Mayor, on the eve of his re-election, enlists Wahlberg’s aide because he
claims his beautiful wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is cheating on him.
Actually, she is arranging clandestine meetings, but everything is not as it
appears. Inserted into this seamy, unseemly, but familiar scenario is the real
issue here: a big commercial real estate deal. It seems the Mayor is in favor
of converting a certain housing development to provide affordable rent space,
but he’s got ulterior motives that he’s not revealing to anyone. There’s
a Police Commissioner who’s his political enemy, but may also have a
personal vendetta to settle. Then there’s the Mayor’s election opponent, a
rich guy running a populist campaign, which we all know is precarious at best.
Even worse, he is hotly contesting the advice of his own campaign manager, who
has his own secrets, as well.
Sound a little too convoluted for one movie? Probably because it is. The plot
is much more cerebral than a standard action flick, even involving some light
satire aimed at overweening politicians. Wahlberg’s character, though tough
enough on the streets, is also fighting an alcoholism demon, and besides that,
is losing his grip on his marriage to a beautiful woman who, of all things,
wants to be an actor. And how ironic is it that her turn at stardom involves a
gritty sex scene, which offends Wahlberg’s delicate sensitivities? Does
anybody else remember Boogie Nights (1997), or are they just playing with us
Well, sometimes doing the right thing means ‘fessing up to something you had
actually gotten away with, when paying the piper seems especially onerous. And
sometimes the public figure you’d like to trust turns out to have feet of
clay. It’s just that he doesn’t always get his just desserts in real life.
He may just get the dessert.
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Minister, St. Stephen’s Presbyterian Church, Irving,