Gangster Squad (2013)

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Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writers: Will Beall, Paul Lieberman

Stars: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Genre: Crime, Action, Drama

Los Angeles 1949: A time when life was simple, and men were men. It was a time when everything made sense. Roles were clear and simple, and what was expected of you was laid out in black and white. Men were manly back in those days of old. So manly in fact that they had to wear fancy hats and nice suites to water down all that brutality to which lay beneath. The majority of males in those days also had two dicks; one that would be used to create life, and the other used to destroy it. Both could be accomplished with one or many pumps that could spray multiple projectiles of a deadly or heavenly variety. If you had an issue with someone, you wouldn’t go bitch to your friends about it or call a liberal human rights agency to complain and whine about how life isn’t “fair”, you would instead take care of the situation like a boss; by whipping out your Thompson or Colt .45 and blowing a hole the size of a tangerine into your bully or nemesis. The only way to stop a bully is to make it so that consequences will arise if he so chooses to continue his cowardly actions. Using your words does not work. It leaves you vulnerable, weak and is an invitation for more abuse. Action must be taken.

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Now, Gangster Squad is in no way one of the greatest gangster films to come across the review table in the last decade, let alone, the last century. However, on its own it has the potential to be a repayable film if you pine for something that is of post-WWII nostalgia of the following years after the war, and when America was being put back together. The film has an Untouchables feel to it where we have a battle for the soul of a city between a ruthless mob tyrant and a few honest men (who happen to be cops). In the blue corner is Josh Brolin’s “honest cop” John O’Mara who, when not tending to his pregnant wife at home, is rescuing damsels in distress at work.

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In the red corner is Penn’s real-life mobster Mickey Cohen – heroin dealer, racketeer and all-round bad ass.In a bid to bring him down, O’Mara assembles his squad, from Anthony Mackie’s switchblade-wielding Harlem cop to Giovanni Ribisi’s ’tech-head (“the brains to balance the brawn”). Others on board include Robert Patrick’s sharp-shooting old-timer, Michael Peña’s rookie and, after initially showing reluctance, Ryan Gosling’s slacker-cop Sgt. Jerry Wooters, who – just for added spice – takes a shine to Cohen’s moll Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). On the surface at least, there’s much to admire, from the classy cast, immaculate production and costume design to a script that stings with salty one-liners (“He’s got a smart mouth but he’s dumb where it counts”). But amid the bullet blizzards, it’s hard to feel much for any of the characters; there are times when the gangster-grotesques in Warren Beatty’s comic-book mob movie Dick Tracy feel more three-dimensional. It doesn’t help that Stone and Gosling get less room to re-capture the chemistry that fizzed so memorably in Crazy Stupid Love.

About halfway through the film I gave up trying to analyse it because there really wasn’t much to it. So I just decided to enjoy the ride. The film is essentially about a bunch of handsome dudes running around LA, wearing amazing suites, firing sexy vintage weaponry at people and delivering vigilantism in a way that can only come true in my best of fantasies. There is very little about that last sentence that is anything but pure bliss and pleasure, and much of Gangster Squad plays out like a two-fisted pulp novel, full of rock’em-sock’em F-you violence and the kind of acting that can only be described as “hammy”. The film was of course directed by Ruben Fleischer, who previously gave us the tasty delights of Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less, and shoots this film, digitally, in a my favourite kind of way; a haloed haze of nostalgia and vintage neon glitz. It’s remarkably beautiful; especially when he does neat things like slows down a gunfight that takes place across a large Christmas display.

Image Ultimately, Gangster Squad for me came off as a little too earnest for its own good. For instance, in an early scene in the film, Ryan Gosling—playing a boozing, womanizing Los Angeles detective- scans a full room of gangsters and crooked cops, and focuses on a beautiful red hair of Emma Stone, her tumbling hair framing her angelic face. “Who’s the tomato?” he asks. This is about the level of sophistication, dialogue wise, that you will have to deal with in Gangster Squad. In addition to my now Ale laced criticisms(it’s a good night for a beer) the machine guns aren’t the only things firing rapidly in this film; every character speaks in terse bursts of tough-guy dialogue seemingly ripped from pages of whatever yellow paperback  noire detective novel was lying around at the time. For the most part it works wonderfully.

The film is as “based on true event’s” as Batman. There are two title cards at the beginning of the movie—one that says the films name and the other that states that cringing title of “Based on a True Story”. Every time I see this disclaimer in a film I immediately shake my head and murmur to myself “Here comes the bullshit train”. The problem with this in Gangster Squad is that the movie seems to have only a cursory connection to events that actually happened during that time period. Everything that you see in this film is exaggerated and heightened to the point where it makes you think that you are watching a Hardy Boys novel on steroids.

ImageIt’s also clearly Warner Brothers trying to revitalize its own classic gangster genre ( made immortal by films like Public Enemy) The movies super-heroics fit the story regardless of historical authenticity( and the films screenwriter, Will Beall, was hired to write Justice League), but if you are looking for something that is rooted in real life, Daniel Day-Lewis is probably still wearing a goofy hat a few studios down.

One big thing though that I took away from this film was that the Ryan Gosling Charisma Factory continues unabated, and Emma Stone could very-well become a natural replacement for Cialis.

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