Tag Archives: Los Angeles

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.

End of Watch

1 Apr

End of Watch


Director: David Ayer

Writer: David Ayer

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Peña, Anna Kendrick

Motion Picture Rating: R

Runtime: 109 minutes



The US film and TV industry is firmly established around Los Angeles and unsurprisingly the local police force remains a popular subject. Almost all film genres have used the LAPD for inspiration including film noir, gangster, action and comedy. With allegations of corruption and brutality dogging the force since way back, a lot of the output has been critical. In 2011 Woody Harrelson was extraordinarily good in the film Rampart playing a racist, alcoholic and violent LAPD officer. In 2001 Denzel Washington won acclaim playing a rogue officer in Training Day.

Training Day was written by David Ayer and here on End of Watch he adds the role of director. He might not be concerned about saturation in LAPD stories, but I think that he is concerned about so much negativity. For whilst End of Watch reveals some bad behaviour that LAPD cops suffer from, Ayer builds a picture that empathises with the hyper-stressed police. He shows the domestic lives that cops cherish and that are difficult to maintain under the acute pressure of protecting and serving. In a lot of ways this is a different type of LAPD story.

End of Watch follows two officers that have been partners since leaving the academy. Jake Gyllenhaal plays Brian and Michael Pena plays Mike. The film tracks them inside and outside of the precinct, on quiet and on hectic patrols and away from the force altogether. Multiple cameras are used, as per movies such as Chronicle, and the result is a highly intimate and sometimes claustrophobic portrayal of being a cop in a high crime neighbourhood (South Central LA). The more ambitious cop Brian actually carries a small handheld camera with him on patrol and that, plus standard patrol car cameras, are edited in to great effect.

This is an excellent film. I was unsure about the fly-on-the-wall set up during the first 15 minutes, but I was pulled in by the tension and action of some of the crime scenes and by the sheer camararderie of the two cops. Gyllenhaal and Pena become highly believable LAPD officers and the danger that’s put in front of them grows ever more disturbing. I found myself enjoying the company of these two guys, but starting to worry about their safety. That is quite a feat of writing and directing by Ayer and of acting by Gyllenhaal & Pena. Besides sympathising with the police, I also found myself slack-jawed at the casual violence portrayed in South Central LA, a truly nightmarish neighbourhood.


16 Jul


Director: Oren Moverman

Writers: James Ellroy, Oren Moverman

Stars: Woody Harrelson, Ben Foster and Sigourney Weaver

Motion Picture Rating: 15

Runtime: 108 minutes




There was a time about 15 years ago when I read anything and everything by James Ellroy. My devotion started with the phenomenal book The Black Dahlia, was whipped along by the great LA Confidential and came to a sweet conclusion with the highly impressive American Tabloid. I loved the rat-tat-tat of Ellroy’s feverish writing. He seemed like a man possessed and he mostly wrote about men possessed or paranoid or both. He wrote about crime. His world was dirty and dark, a Los Angeles that we rarely see. His ‘heroes’ all had flaws, they all had issues. And one type of hero consistently emerged from the fray – the righteous, but brutal policeman driven to seek out and punish men that abused women.

Here with Rampart we have a film written by Ellroy that is set in LA in 1999 and that focuses on one LAPD police officer called Dave Brown. He is a classic Ellroy character and this film sifts themes from Ellroy’s back catalogue. Brown is brutal, possibly racist, and almost certainly misogynistic, he has little respect for those above him and he is comfortable cutting any procedural corner. The story of Rampart is his story, but also that of the 1990’s LAPD and of America after Rodney King. It is an intense place and time.

In the role of Dave Brown, Woody Harrelson is astonishing. He is completely wired. Both body and mind are taut. His police officer is of a different time, he’s far too out there for colleagues and bosses and whilst no one wants to deal with him he is stubborn enough not to leave the force of his own volition. Brown unravels through the film following a heavy handed piece of street justice and opportunism and his descent is the story of the film and the Rampart division where he works.

Rampart is not an easy film to watch and certainly does not follow a traditional narrative arc. It jumps around, it’s loud then quiet. There is a stunning section in an underground sex club that assaults the senses. That section and the character of Dave Brown had me thinking of Michael Fassbender’s Brandon in Shame, another difficult, but impressive film. Harrelson carries it all superbly and he is supported by fine actors including Robin Wright, Ben Foster and Sigourney Weaver. The composition of shots and the colouring of this film are strong too. This is not for everyone, but lovers of Ellroy will be deeply satisfied with the bad lieutenant at hand.

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