Gangster Squad

23 Jun

gangster squad

 

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writers: Will Beall, Paul Lieberman (book)

Stars: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 113 minutes

 

Los Angeles either side of WWII was a city in flux and seemingly a hotbed of conflicted police officers, femme fatales and gangsters. Great books and films have focused on LA’s growing pains before and after the war including Chinatown and LA Confidential. Crime and noir are the most synonymous genres as propagated by Raymond Chandler, James Ellroy, and Jonathan Kellerman etc. There is a dark heart to Los Angeles and plenty of folkloric tales to mine for fictional gold. I have mostly lapped it up and count those films and those writers as firm favourites.

Unfortunately, this movie is not worthy enough to be mentioned in the same breath as the likes of Chinatown and LA Confidential. There is a San Fernando Valley sized gulf between them. That’s possibly an overly harsh criticism as I’m sure that the film-makers had much lower ambitions. However, LA has produced such great gangster inspired books and films that you cannot be complacent or arrogant and it’s those traits that mostly affect this insipid effort. Great gangster stories are engrossing and complex. The characters are hard to pigeon hole and the plots twist and turn around themes of greed, ambition, jealousy and fear. Chandler, Ellroy and Kellerman run the gamut and deliver in spades. Go read them and don’t bother with this.

Sean Penn, so caked in make-up that he resembles Al Pacino from the 1990 Dick Tracy, plays mobster Mickey Cohen. He is taking over LA and that wrangles with renegade cop John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). Cohen is a sociopathic megalomaniac. He rules with an iron fist and has the LAPD in his back pocket. It forces Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to turn to O’Mara and a small team of hand-picked cops to bring Cohen down. That team are incorruptible or untouchable IE this is The Untouchables moved from Chicago to LA.

Penn huffs and puffs, but never convinces in the way that De Niro did as Al Capone. Elsewhere Brolin proves that he is not a leading man and that the Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men was a superb anomaly. Behind those two Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone simply look miscast and their scenes together could easily be from a whole different movie. The film is a mess and the budget must have been spent on the actors as there are too few locations too many night scenes (with indistinguishable dialogue). This is a gangster film for the 15 – 21 year old market, but even so it serves that open-minded audience very poorly indeed.

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