Russell Crow and Mark Wahlberg star in the movie "Broken City." (Alan Markfield / 20th Century…)
For the last two decades, Allen Hughes' primary renown has been based on joint credit. He and his identical twin, Albert, are known around Hollywood as the Hughes brothers, the hydra-headed filmmaking duo responsible for such breakthroughs as the blistering 1993 gangsta drama "Menace II Society" and the Denzel Washington-starring post-apocalyptic thriller "The Book of Eli" in 2010.
Ask Hughes what compelled him to dissolve their enduring creative partnership to strike out on his own this year, however, and the director is likely to start talking about the Beatles.
"It's like a rock group," Hughes said. "Paul McCartney and John Lennon — they got into different zones, and it became a challenge for them to get in the same zone creatively. As you get older, you become your own man. You want to show people what you're capable of. Especially when you're a twin."
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After co-directing five films with Albert, Hughes' first solo outing is the gritty political potboiler "Broken City," which reaches theaters on Jan. 18. The $35-million film follows disgraced ex-cop turned private eye Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg), who gets dragged into a web of double-dealing, back-stabbing and intrigue when New York Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe) enlists him to investigate his wife's suspected infidelities. It's a movie for grown-ups that pays implicit homage to the neo-noir of such '70s suspense masters as Sidney Lumet and Roman Polanski — a throwback cocktail of greed, big-city horse trading, murder and institutional corruption.
And it's certainly a far cry from the gats-and-gangs 'hood drama that put the Hughes brothers on the map 20 years ago. "If it was alcohol, 'Menace II Society' would be Jack Daniel's," Hughes explained. "I feel like 'Broken City' is nice wine. It's mature and opened up and complex. Substance is what I was focused on mainly."
After discovering screenwriter Brian Tucker's script on the 2008 Black List, which showcases Hollywood's hottest unproduced screenplays, Hughes earmarked the role of Taggart for Wahlberg and reached out to the star in 2010, several months before Wahlberg was to land some of the best reviews of his career for his turn in the boxing drama "The Fighter"; the actor quickly signed on as both the lead and producer of "Broken City."
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"The character is funny, edgy, tragic. He's flawed, he's the underdog," said Hughes. "He's endearing. He's everything that Mark is."
Thanks to the strict physical regimen he implemented to portray Jor-El, Superman's father, in director Zack Snyder's upcoming "Man of Steel," Russell Crowe appears slimmed down and buffed up in "Broken City." He emanates a kind of purring Teflon malevolence as prime manipulator of New York's corridors of power. "Challenging — not difficult," is how Hughes describes the notoriously mercurial Crowe's on-set mien.
The director is quick to point out that he and Albert are closer to one another at age 40 than at any other time in their lives. And Hughes put in perspective what distinguished their yin-yang partnership from that of filmdom's other successful sibling collaborations.
"Whether it's Tony and Ridley Scott, the Wachowskis, the Coen brothers, there's a hierarchy. It's usually the older one who is alpha," he said. "As twins, Albert and me didn't have that. Everything had to be totally equal. But you get to the point where you go, 'Everything's equal. But, well, who the … am I?'"
"I think this movie respects what my brother and I have built," Hughes continued. "And at the same time, it sends the signal that I'm going in this direction now."
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