MOVIE: Gangster Squad


A NEW VIDEO game has just been launched. It’s called “Gangster Squad”. Actually, hang on, it isn’t a game, it’s a real movie. It looks like a game; the characters in it, who are apparently real actors, move like it’s a game; and the storyline sounds like a game. But the fact that it’s on at the Clapham Picturehouse and not on X-Box… that, I guess, is the big give-way. It’s the only give-away.

So, buyer beware – don’t be fooled by the glittering cast of this new, thuggishly dumb gangster movie that premiered this week.

The premise is this: it’s just after the war (1949 to be exact) and Sean Penn is Mickey Cohen, a low life Hollywood gangster with ambitions of taking over the entire West Coast. He controls not only whole legions of armed hench-men, but most of the politicians and police, who turn a blind eye to his nefarious activities. Except for Nick Nolte, who is taciturn, which means he’s uncorruptible. It is he who conscripts a squadron of ex-army (equally uncorruptible and dedicated) cops to make war on Cohen and his gang, outside of the constraints of the law and the badge.

Maybe you’ve come across plot lines like this before, and, what with this array of stars, you may be lulled into thinking that there’s some fiendishly clever twist on this old cliché to introduce new energy and thematic pulse, the way, say “The Untouchables” did.

But no, you’d be wrong. This is simply one of those super-masculine outings where the women are dames waiting to be saved by strong jawed men; where the bad guys just don’t seem to be able to hit their targets despite truck loads of bullets (shown jumping from their rifles in loving slow mo’), but where the good guys are keen-eyed shooters; where there is a relentlessness of sadistic blood-splattering violence; where the body count is unremitting; and where the dialog is snappy and meaningless.

Which matches the acting style.

The only excuse could be that director Ruben Fleischer (who gave us that classic, “Zombieland”) pushed them to go for, let’s say, a more broad interpretation of character. This must have opened up Sean Penn, who is usually very compelling and believable (the only half way decent thing about the dreadful “Tree of Life”) to ham it up to such an extent that I fear he might have his Equity card revoked. Josh Brolin, as Sgt John O’Mara the square-jawed un-killable leader of the pack of ‘good guys’ delivers a performance of such flinty resoluteness, he appears constantly to be busting his brains to remember his lines. And ‘it’ man, Ryan Gosling snatches his performance from the “cool dude” draw where he stores his “Drive” school of expression-free acting.

Much of the action takes place on a back lot that Fleischer’s production team must have snapped up from an X-Box drawer of fire-sale design discards. For it is quite clearly a back-lot; nothing remotely credible.

But, there is a lot of attention to wardrobe. Mary Zophres who dressed Harrison Forde and Daniel Craig in “Cowboys and Aliens” as well as the team from “Iron Man” gives us the GQ version of roaring twenties, rogue-cop style.

So at least, if “Expendables II” wasn’t your cup of tea; or if you aren’t surprised to find that the Oscar judges have passed over Jason Stratham yet again, you may find some solace in the flashy masculine clothes on display. And if even this is not your cup of tea, suggest you conserve your energy and time.

2 thoughts on “MOVIE: Gangster Squad

  1. CMrok93 says:

    All flash with zero substance, and a sometimes jarringly uneven flash at that. Shame, too. I was looking forward to this one for a long time. Good review.


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