Allen Hughes traverses ‘Broken City’ and reflects on the 20-year anniversary of ‘Menace II Society’
Photo: 20th Century Fox
Twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes make up the filmmaking team known as The Hughes Brothers, who made their feature film co-directorial debut back in 1993 at the tender age of 19 with "Menace II Society." Since then, they've made a name for themselves with smart, character-driven crime dramas such as "Dead Presidents" (1995), "From Hell" (2001) and "The Book of Eli" (2010), as well as the acclaimed documentary about one of the world's oldest professions, "American Pimp" (1999).
Now, Allen is taking on his first solo feature directing gig with "Broken City," a '70s-style crime thriller in which ex-cop Billy Taggart (Mark Wahlberg) seeks retribution and revenge after being double-crossed and framed by Mayor Nicholas Hostetler (Russell Crowe), who hired Taggart to keep tabs on his possibly unfaithful wife (Catherine Zeta-Jones). We spoke with Allen about "Broken City" (opening January 18), his working relationship with his brother, getting into the Guinness Book of World Records and the upcoming 20th anniversary of "Menace II Society."
BRYAN ENK: Your movies aren't simple; they have a really strong sense of time and place and very complex characters. I read somewhere that you like to put underdog characters into near-insurmountable situations. Is this something you've consciously sought for or has it just sort of organically developed over the years in terms of what kind of stories attract you as a director?
ALLEN HUGHES: It's interesting because it's the 20th anniversary of "Menace II Society" this year. I've been getting a lot of retroactive questions because, I don't know, you turn 40 and you have a little bit of body of work and you have to "take inventory," I guess. It was an organic process because of how my brother [Albert Hughes] and I felt growing up being biracial in Detroit, without a father in the house, with a single mother who was Armenian and who happened to be a radical feminist. She was head of her chapter of NOW [National Organization of Women], she was head of her chapter of ERA [Equal Rights Amendment], she was the President of the Rape Crisis Hotline on top of it ... we were always outcast and disenfranchised and discounted. So you always feel like you're on the peripheral of everything or that you've got to fight to get to the middle or even in the club. Yeah, that was organic -- it's now dawning on me, you know?
BE: You also have a knack for doing really cool visual flourishes as well, such as the close-ups of each character while planning the robbery in "Dead Presidents" and the frenetic editing during Ian Holm's final breakdown in "From Hell." Is that kind of stuff mostly planned in pre-production or does it sometimes happen spontaneously on set?
AH: Oh, that is so planned out. My brother is the more regimented "planner" of the two; he has acting ideas and character ideas and I'll have visual ideas as well, but he's the captain of that ship and I'm captain of the story/actor division. [laughs] He's very programmed in systematic and regimented ... hmm, I would compare him to the way Trent Reznor does his music, and I'm more jazz, I'm more fluid and improvisational. So those things are me and him coming up with a byproduct of ideas and then him taking it and mathematically working it out way ahead of time. And usually it's inspired by music, which is odd.