Thursday, 10 January 2013
FILM REVIEW: GANGSTER SQUAD
There's something evil at work in Hollywood(land) in 1949 and it's not the casting couch. Mickey Cohen, a Jewish gangster with East Coast mob connections and ambitions of ruling the West, has all manner of illicit and illegal operations in play. From gambling to prostitution and sex slavery, Cohen (Sean Penn, channelling De Niro in psycho mode) has his fingers in many pies. He also has the LAPD in his pocket.
Well, most of them. Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), a returned WWII servicemen, is one of the city's few honest cops, not afraid to tackle crime when it takes place on Cohen's turf even if his partner and department turns a blind eye.
But the rotten doesn't go all the way to the top: Police Chief Parker (a growling Nick Nolte: did he suffer throat cancer or is he still in voice character from Over The Hedge?) acknowledges O'Mara's fighting the good fight and appoints him to lead an unofficial -- badges off -- task force to upend Cohen's operations, whatever means necessary.
O'Mara enlists Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), the sole representative of the law in L.A.'s black neighbourhoods, communications expert, Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), veteran cop sharp shooter turned comic book hero, Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), and his eager tag-a-long, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena).
And his chosen 2IC is Sgt Jerry Wooter (Ryan Gosling), an apathetic cop who is roused from his lethargy by the death of his favourite shoeshine, and the fact that the girl he has fallen for just happens to be Cohen's. Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) came to Hollywood with dreams of stardom but now teaches elocution to the gangster.
Stone certainly rocks her 1940s red evening dress, and the chemistry between Gosling (her Crazy, Stupid, Love co-star) softly smoulders, but Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger in L.A. Confidential they are not.
And Gangster Squad is more Mulholland Falls (1996) than L.A. Confidential, which would perhaps explain the appearance of Nolte who starred in the former. But that doesn't explain director Ruben Fleischer's stylistic choices which draw attention to themselves for all the wrong reasons: oddly timed slow-motion shoot-outs and equally as odd stabs at humour. Gangster Squad is more lug-headed than hard boiled. Violent, sure, but noir, neo or otherwise, it is not.
Admittedly, Gangster Squad has had a troubled time getting to cinemas: a delayed release and re-shoots following the shootings in Aurora, Colorado last July; the film originally featured a shoot-out in a cinema which producers deemed too sensitive to maintain.
Those setbacks, however, are after the fact. Gangster Squad's troubles were seemingly inherent from inception. Indeed, you could be forgiven for thinking the film, written by Will Beal and adapted from the book by Paul Lieberman, was originally a graphic novel. But it's not.
The story of Mickey Cohen versus the LAPD is based on fact but any semblance of reality seems to have been abandoned in pre-production. Fleischer, who made the excellent 2009 comedy, Zombieland, brings an almost cartoon-like aesthetic to proceedings which renders the action intermittently engaging but never once believable.