Cartoon Untouchables

One for the fans ....

One for the fans ….

Title:                          Gangster Squad

Certificate:               15

Director:                   Ruben Fleischer

Major Players:         Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone

Out of five?              2.5

As a child of the Fifties, and with parents who’d lived in America, my original cinematic diet contained large helpings of westerns and gangster movies.  Both genres are something of a rarity nowadays.  Despite the efforts of Messrs Eastwood and Costner, westerns haven’t regained their popularity while, with the honourable exception of the British variety and Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, gangster movies are a once in a blue moon occurrence.

And having seen Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad, I fear they’re consigned to the movie boondocks for the foreseeable future.  He’s done them no favours.  The possibility of an homage to the gangster flicks of the 40s and 50s, indicated by the sepia toned opening scenes, doesn’t last long.  And he certainly doesn’t take the genre into any new territory.

Gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) has built a crime empire in Los Angeles, built on drugs, prostitution and having the local police and judiciary in his pocket.  When Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) decides to take him down, his first choice is gung-ho cop John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), who forms a squad of unconventional officers.

Director Ruben Fleischer singularly misses an opportunity to do something interesting and/or new.  Instead, he’s produced a film that is, essentially, a live action cartoon.  The characters are so 2D you can almost see them outlined in black, the dialogue is in short sentences that belong in speech bubbles and the gun battles are straight off the pages of a comic, producing surprisingly little blood.  Gangster’s moll Emma Stone looks fantastic with her Veronica Lake hairstyle and slinky red dress with thigh high split.  And so did Jessica Rabbit …………

Not only is the violence cartoon-like, but there is far too much of it.  Once you’ve seen two or three of the shoot-outs, you’ve seen them all because, not only do they all look pretty much the same, they lose their impact.   And it’s reduced further by the self-conscious slo-mo.

It is also littered with references to The Untouchables.  The gathering of a group of unlikely comrades to fight a major gangster, a murdered child that inspires one of them to join the fight, the vulnerability of the squad leader’s pregnant wife ………… you get the picture.  The only way you can’t spot them is if you’ve not seen De Palma’s infinitely superior film.

But what’s really disappointing and frustrating about Gangster Squad is that it has a cast to die for and doesn’t make the most of it.  Proof positive that you need more than just an A list cast to make a good film.  We all know how good Sean Penn can be, but here he’s completely OTT – overacting, gurning and with terrible prosthetics.  If anything, this film shows how much he needs a strong director to keep his excesses in check.  Fleischer doesn’t do it.  Josh Brolin looks like the epitome of a 1930s man and spends a lot of time having his face beaten up and Ryan Gosling doesn’t have much more to do than be cool and look good – which, doubtlessly, his legions of fans will love.  But he’s better than that.

In its defence, Gangster Squad is entertaining and I didn’t feel I’d completely wasted my time.  And if you’ve not seen many gangster films – especially The Untouchables – and you like lots of shooting, then it’ll be right up your street.  Otherwise – well, you probably need to be diehard Gosling girl.

This review is now available to download as a podcast:


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