James Ransone in Broken City: Barely onscreen and barely restrained



Ransone (right) with Ethan Hawke in Sinister
  • Ransone (right) with Ethan Hawke in Sinister
The Mark Wahlberg vehicle Broken City, which opens Friday, is a solid, old-fashioned detective movie. Barring a speech about social equality for gay couples and some superfluous helicopter shots, the film feels a lot like a mid-40s noir programmer. Wahlberg's flawed private investigator (a former police detective trying to earn his keep), the casual intimations of political corruption, director Allen Hughes's gritty-but-affectionate portraits of marginalized neighborhood communities: all these qualities agreeably recall a second-tier Robert Siodmak effort like Cry of the City (1948) or The File on Thelma Jordan (1950). And like a good old noir programmer, the movie really comes to life when the character actors in the supporting cast get to strut their stuff. The most memorable bits belong to Barry Pepper as a JFK-worshipping mayoral candidate, Jeffrey Wright as a hard-ass police commissioner (his soft bald cranium hinting at a fascinating secret life), and, in far too brief an appearance, James Ransone as a wealthy developer's bratty son.

This marks the third compelling performance I've seen from Ransone in less than a year. The others were in Sinister, where he played a shifty small-town policeman, and in Starlet, where he played an aspiring porn performer. In all three roles the 33-year-old actor uses his hard-staring eyes and wiry frame to suggest a sociopathic, even animal intensity that could break out at any moment. It's a surprisingly malleable quality; Ransone doesn't seem out of place as any of these characters, which vary from rich to poor and from cunning to dopey. This barely contained energy alternately suggests a caffeine buzz, unchecked pride, and Tourette's syndrome. It could come from anywhere, and the chief pleasure of watching Ransone onscreen—like the great Dan Duryea (Woman in the Window, Black Angel) before him—is in pondering its source in regard to whatever particular eccentric he's playing.

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