Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Produced by: Bruce Berman
Screenplay by: Will Beall
Based on: Tales From The Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman
Starring: Josh Brolin
Music by: Steve Jablonsky
Cinematography by: Dion Beebe
Editing by: Alan Baumgarten
Studio(s): Village Roadshow Pictures
Distributed by: Warner Bros.
Release date(s): January 10, 2013 (United Kingdom)
January 11, 2013 (United States)
Running time: 113 minutes
Country: United States
Production budget: $60 million
Box-office revenue: $105, 200, 903
Rightio, a little announcement regarding the reviews are in due order. After this review, I have one for The Wolf Of Wall Street coming in, and then that'll be me finished for 2013 and I'll be getting down to putting up a bigger version of my usual Review Of The Month, followed by the 2013 Hall Of Fame and Best And Worst Of The Year. Obviously this means I'm going back on my word on reviewing Park Chan-wook's Stoker, which I'm really miffed about not getting to review. However, the SCART socket on the back of my Playstation 3 is bust and I need to get a new HD-TV in order to be able to watch the Blu-Ray copy of it. If it's any consolation to those who were looking forward to that one, I am unable to watch my copies of The Dark Knight Rises, Inception, Suspiria, Army Of Darkness and Schindler's List as a result of this, so it's not just me being lazy. Likewise, I won't be reviewing The Wolverine because I'm unsatisfied with the various rips I've found of it online, and wouldn't mind watching it on DVD before X-Men: Days Of Future Past comes out, which I will definitely be looking at for 2014. So, for all the latest and greatest in the movies, keep your eyes posted!
Today's movie up for review is Gangster Squad, which is the latest film by Ruben Fleischer, who first burst onto the scene with Zombieland, a very good comedy-horror picture from a few year backs, and 30 Minutes Or Less, which admittedly I didn't see but opened to mixed reviews and not especially good box-office. Getting away from comedy, Fleischer's latest is a highly stylised ensemble piece that is not unlike a Tarantino-esque attempt at a throwback to a formerly popular genre of films, in this case the gangster film. So, plot synopsis: it's 1949 in Los Angeles, and Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a power-hungry gangster who wants to monopolise all of organised crime in the city. When the bloodshed becomes much more frequent, police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) appoints Detective Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), a fearless detective who had knowingly raided a Cohen operation, has a special operations background and trained at Camp X during World War II, as the head of a so-called 'Gangster Squad' comprised of men of his own choosing, designed to work in anonymity with LAPD support and to specifically crack down on the activities of Mickey Cohen. Got it? Good!
Starting with the good of Gangster Squad, I was impressed with the overall look of the film. The production design and the costumes in the mise-en-scene are appropriate to the period depicted, as are the various things like the vehicles and the guns and what have you. However, what happens with the cinematography by Dion Beebe is that this look is given a certain hyper-realism. It is an exaggerated look that almost borderlines that which you might see in a comic book adaptation like Sin City, except of course this is in full colour. Furthermore, the fact that it is shot in digital gives it a strange hybridity which on the surface at least works. Also praiseworthy about the film are certain members of the ensemble cast. I've always felt that Josh Brolin's one of those guys who has real leading man potential, it's just that he needs to pick better movies, though that's certainly not always the case. Here, he brings the natural rugged charm that he has to the plate, and is believable as the leader of this group the same way someone like a Lee Marvin or William Holden. Also, although I don't what the hell he's doing with his voice, Ryan Gosling is good too as the often-drunk Sgt. Jerry Wooters, and Emma Stone is suitably entrancing in the proverbial femme fatale role. There are a couple of standout moments in the movie as well. There is a fine example of defying expectation when there is an attempt to bust a couple of members of the Gangster Squad out of a prison cell, and after attaching a chain to the bars of the wall, a car starts revving, and just when it looks like the wall's gonna come down, the bumper flies off the car. Also, the film's action sequences are very well done. It's nice to see a movie that isn't toned down in it's violence with squibs abound, but I also thought that there was some fine choreography at work here, and the car chase mid-way through the movie is very good. Finally, although I don't think this is quite the success the director wanted (more of which...), I think that Ruben Fleischer had the best intentions at hand, and still delivers a decent enough picture, given what he's got to work with.
Now, when I say what he's got work with, I mean that he has to contend with, for all its stylistic flair, a highly derivative script from Will Beall. On paper, this sounds like a good premise for a great film, but in execution, Beall fails to do anything that makes it anything special. For starters, the plot itself is a rough mish-mash of things we have seen done at least a hundred times before in better movies: love triangle, Casablanca, group of unlikely partners come together, L.A. Confidential, power-hungry gangster looking to run a drug empire off of a monopoly, Scarface, we've seen this all before, and frankly pure stylistics aren't enough to get away from that. The other main issue with the script is with the characterisation of the ensemble being poor (what do you think happens when it's established one has a family, huh huh?!) and disproportionate. You have fine actors like Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena, who are given nothing roles that serve merely as filler for where they fit in the scheme of things, Mackie covering the race side, Ribisi wears glasses, oh, he must be the brains of the group, and Pena is the young rookie nobody necessarily want to work with, but hey, maybe, just maybe, he'll prove his worth in the long run. Gosh, what a shock, he does indeed! Also, there's a score in there by Steve Jablonsky, who when not subjecting us to honking histrionics, gives us a real murder-by-numbers work, as in here. Don't get me wrong, don't take from this tone that Gangster Squad's a bad movie, it just could have been so much more. I mean, while I'd like to think my involuntary Nick Nolte impressions/garbles to amuse myself every time he showed up were a fault of my own, I think it shows how the movie failed to truly engage me.
Gangster Squad is a movie stuck between a rock and a hard place: on the one hand, there's a movie with real stylistic flair that looks terrific, features a solid ensemble cast, fine action sequences and a director with the best intentions at heart. On the other, it has a weak, script with poor characterisation and plot points we've seen done a hundred times before, a murder-by-numbers score. For a movie that has a lot going for it in some regards, it's intensely frustrating to be reduced to a babbling idiot doing Nick Nolte impersonation to keep myself entertained.
The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 5.1/10
The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Buzzing (The Sisters Of Mercy helped with this one!)