October 6, 2015


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Been there, done that ...and it was way better

THE movie Gangster Squad may not ever be considered a particularly worthy film, but it does answer an interesting theoretical question: What would Brian De Palma's The Untouchables have been like if, instead of David Mamet, it had been scripted by a hack?

This hokey shoot-'em-up answers that question too well, even as it laboriously attempts to duplicate what made The Untouchables interesting.

Two minutes for looking so good: Penn (left) and Brolin.


Two minutes for looking so good: Penn (left) and Brolin.

An idealist cop out to rescue a city from corruption? Yep, that's Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O'Mara.

A powerful, charismatic, out-of-control mobster played by an Oscar-winning character actor? Hello, Sean Penn as feisty psychotic Mickey Cohen.

A savvy, streetwise cop initially resistant to the idealist's pleas for help? Well, as Sgt. Jerry Wooters, Ryan Gosling is clearly not an exact parallel for Sean Connery -- he even gets a love interest in Cohen mistress Grace Faraday (a miscast Emma Stone) -- but he more or less fits that bill.

Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) adds other components to the mix that serve as a faint echo of The Untouchables, including an unlikely dweebish cop and sundry psychotic thugs. But scriptwriter Will Beall, adapting journalist Paul Lieberman's book of the same name, favours cheap melodramatic thrills over The Untouchables' tone of mythic grandeur.

Gangster Squad, too, is based loosely on fact. As Mickey Cohen's criminal empire grew unchecked in post-Second World War Los Angeles, famed police chief William Parker (here played by Nick Nolte in authoritarian-bluster mode) basically assigned a squad of men to subvert his criminal enterprises using not-strictly-legal methods.

The premise allows for good-looking actors to dress in snappy clothes while tooling around an elegant Los Angeles (pre-strip malls). It allows Penn the opportunity to chew some scenery as Cohen, playing the colourful hoodlum as simply evil incarnate. (Harvey Keitel in the movie Bugsy is, if not a more accurate representation of Cohen, a far more entertaining one.)

The film delivers lots of violence and bullets, but is a trivial piece of work, written indifferently and performed with an eye to style over substance.

The L.A. noir sub-genre includes great films such as Chinatown, The Big Sleep, and L.A. Confidential. Fleischer evidently drew more inspiration from the video game L.A. Noire. The movie will be quickly forgotten accordingly.


Other Voices

"Though based partly on actual events, Ruben Fleischer's ludicrous shoot-'em-up plays fast and loose with the facts, and plenty else besides."

-- Keith Uhlich, Time Out New York


"Gangster Squad looks fantastic, but it doesn't have an original thought inside its pretty little head. It isn't a rousing exploration of the secret history of Los Angeles so much as an unusually violent fashion show."

-- Nathan Rabin, The AV Club

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 11, 2013 D6

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