[Review] - Gangster Squad

Courtesy of Village Roadshow Productions
As the advertising sold Gangster Squad, this is not a good film. The trailers would have had us believe this was a taunt, gripping human drama set against the mob wars of LA in the post war, film noire era of the forties. A time of greed, corruption, and murder. It wanted us to think this was L.A. Confidential, or Chinatown. That these were serious men doing serious work, with serious purpose. This is not that film.

Delayed from September in the wake of the Aurora shooting, the studio obviously had no idea what to do with what they had, and presented it in the way they usually do with period pieces of this type: they played up the hats, the guns, the gams. What they failed to hit on in anyway was the humour. This movie is a farce, played straight, but a farce non the less. I'm looking at reviews that are saying that Squad is a ham-filled smirk-fest that under performs to expectations. I would argue that they have missed the point.

This isn't a serious picture. This is a cartoon.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains spoilers that greased the wrong cheese and got pinched.

As one might expect from the director of Zombieland, Gangster Squad avoids realism right from the start, when Sean Penn tears a guy in half by strapping him to the bumpers of two cars. After that, the film plays out with a video game level of violence, a level that almost eliminates any sort of reaction to it. It allows the film to transcend decency and exist in a bubble of ridiculousness. The audience I saw it with was on the floor laughing at the over the top nature of the gore (best summed up by a line from Aaron Sorkin's Studio 60, "It's called "Quentin Tatantino's Hallmark Movie, Turkey Won't Die." It's about a mortally wounded bird that will not die, even as it's being served. ... If geysers of blood are gushing out, then I get the Tarantino joke, and it's funny. If it's just a realistic amount of blood, then it's... extremely disturbing..."). This is the first hint that what we're watching isn't a film that takes itself seriously.

The animation influences are all over the place, and were I to watch it again, I would make a point of finding them all. That Penn exists beneath a Dick Tracy amount of makeup was the first hint. Shout outs to Mickey Mouse and Elmer Fudd pop up, and Emma Stone is introduced to us in full on Jessica Rabbit cos-play. Robert Patrick looks like he could take on Yosemite Sam, and everyone else exists is a state of perpetual untarnished dress. Even when Ryan Gosling is covered in the blood of an innocent, he still looks like he's been drawn with perfect lines. The secondary characters are played by a wide assortment of character actors, each more uniquely shaped then the last. Watch, as the villain's henchmen, with the one milky eye and facial scar, stands in full view of the public with a Tommy-gun in each hand, and I challenge you not to expect a Tex Avery logo at the end.

The film, it should be said, is not a parody. It doesn't satirise or lampoon the gangster genre. Rather, it falls more in line with films like Slither, that take a comedic tact when approaching the subject. But it takes it to such an extreme place, one might be forgiven to thinking it is more of a failed parody. The fault lies with the range of performances. Penn and Josh Brolin play it big, as does Nick Nolte. They aim for the fences with each line, Penn somewhat protected by the layer of rubber and the overall nature of the classic cartoon baddie. Gosling though, and Patrick, and Emma Stone all play it straight, trying to find their inner Leslie Nielsen without the obvious absurdity. The place the movie suffers the most is when it tries to be genuinely dramatic, which considering the trappings, comes off stiff and goofy (in a different way from the rest).

The film looks great, with the array of zoot suits and 40's fashions. Emma Stone's character seems largely to exist, not for point of the plot, but to get as many costume changes in as possible, compared to the men who doff the same three-piece and fedora for the whole picture. The occasional bouts of stylised camera work and bullet time can be jarring, if only because there doesn't appear to be any consistent use, but it's all added for the sheer purpose of awesome. This isn't meant to be a film with a message, it is meant to look cool, to sound cool (screenwriter Will Beall clearly had his slang dictionary on hand while writing) and be cool. This is a film best viewed in a crowd, feeding off the shared lunacy, the laughter starting on one side of the room and spreading. It may not have a message, but at the end of it, you'll have had a damned fun time.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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