Thursday, January 10, 2013

Gangster Squad

They Are The Law

Director Ruben Fleischer's Zombieland was a riot, with plenty of fun in its fantasy premise of a group left fending for its survival against a zombie apocalypse, but gets all serious here with his treatment of Gangster Squad, set in the 40s post WWII Los Angeles where its riddled with crime and corruption, with gangsters owning every turf and calling the shots in the running of the city. A few good men get rounded up by a common ideal to take back their city, starting with getting rid of head gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).

By the time this film runs into its 30 minute mark, you'd see all the shades of Brian De Palma's Untouchables, where instead of Capone, we have Cohen, who got introduced to audiences in a more sadistic fashion, making De Niro's scene with the baseball bat look like a stroll in the park, setting the violent tone that's to pepper the film at every opportunity. And given today's standards, who would blame Fleischer in making this ultra-bloody, especially when it boils down to fisticuffs and the bloodying of any pummeling to the face, and expending plenty of lead through vintage machine guns, which pushed back the film's release after the infamous Aurora, Colorado massacre which required scenes to be reshot.

Then we have Josh Brolin as Sgt John O'Mara, given the green light by weary police chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to go under the radar and assemble a crack team of his own to use any means possible to wrest control from Cohen, and cripple the gangster's operations, with a Mission: Impossible styled disavowing hanging over their heads should any of them be caught. If this doesn't sound like Elliot Ness gathering his troops, I don't know what is. Dogged by an inherent sense of righteousness and honour, O'Mara assembles the titular crack squad consisting of marksman Max Kennard (Robert Patrick hidden behind thick makeup), his unofficial understudy tag-along Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena), intelligence Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) with throwing knife skills that got severely underused, and then the Romeo of the lot Sgt Jerry Wooters, whose romance with Cohen's moll Grace Faraday (Emma Stone, literally a flower vase role) brought about an edge to the team.

And just like the Untouchables, with its stylish art direction and production values to recreate the aura and romanticism of its early American era, the drama unfortunately centers around a handful of its leads, without giving much of the other supporting characters screen time to get to know them beyond their single-ability that brought them to the fight. And even then we don't get beyond O'Mara's sense of duty, Wooters' rather maverick ways and romance with Grace that didn't threaten the dynamics of the group nor put him very dangerously close to Cohen's gun-sights. This film could have been a lot more with deeper character study since we have five very different kinds of cops each with their own personal agenda brought to the table, but we get none. This instead got traded for its stunning visuals, a combination of slow-motion, stylized action sequences ranging from montages of raids the Gangster Squad undertakes to close Cohen's various operations, to personal one on one fisticuffs, since Cohen is after all, a mobster who got to where he is through sheer professional boxing prowess and experience. Camera-work, CGed or otherwise, also made quite an impact with its fluid motions to capture the crux of any situation.

There's little to wow on the narrative side of things, since plot development moved in very expected fashion. Probably the sole interesting peak would be how O'Mara's wife Connie (Mireille Enos) got involved in handpicking the Gangster Squad, which boiled down to a pragmatic, selfish and very valid real life reason of keeping her husband alive in a job known to attract Trouble, and surrounding him with people blessed with the necessary skillset to get their mission accomplished.

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