Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Gangster Squad

Ruben Fleischer is a director that is known for comedy, but gives the crime drama a try with "Gangster Squad".  The film is inspired by the book written by Paul Lieberman about the LAPD taking on organized crime in the 1940s and 50s.  The film received some attention earlier in the year when Warner Bros. decided to re-film a scene in response to the Aurora, Colorado movie theater shooting and bumped the release from September 2012 to January 2013.

The film focuses on the vendetta held by Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) against LA Mafia figure Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).  At the direction of LAPD Chief (Nick Nolte), O'Mara forms an elite team of misfits to go after organized crime and drive them out of Los Angeles and win the war for the soul of LA.  As the team is put together, I couldn't help but be reminded of "Ocean's Eleven" in that the elite team has a wire man, Con Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi); a gun man, Max Kenanrd (Robert Patrick); the face, Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling); Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie); and the tag along, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena).  The Gangster Squad operates off the books with illegal wiretaps to gain information about the El Dorado Trust that Mickey is building to become the central sports book on the west coast.  Mickey doesn't believe that what he is doing is a crime, but instead progress sounding like the Joker from "The Dark Knight".

Complimenting the period well is Emma Stone who portrays Grace Faraday who belongs to Mickey Cohen, but is desired by Jerry Wooters.  She came to LA to be in the movies, but is trapped in the lifestyle that she wishes to escape from.

Having read the book I was actually happy to see that the film is only inspired by the book.  The book has no true narrative, but instead is a collection of stories and events that took place between the LAPD and Mickey Cohen, Jack Dragna and others. Only a few of the scenes from the film actually come from the book with the most glaring difference being how Mickey Cohen is actually arrested.  In the film he is arrested for murdering Jack Whalen (Sullivan Stapleton) but he was actually arrested for tax evasion.  Also missing from the book is the significance of Jack Whalen and the media involvement with TV interviews and the TV show "Dragnet".  While the movie isn't perfect it does at least have a narrative and a plot that is fitting of Hollywood with a catch phrase by the villain "Here comes Santy Clause" as he shoots through a Christmas tree at John O'Mara. 

The performances from each of the stars are exactly what you expect from them.  While none of them really stand out, it is still an enjoyable film that keeps you entertained.  The writing is sloppy and results in more than one laughable moment when the story should be taken more seriously.  The story relies too much on a voice-over narrative from Josh Brolin at the beginning and conclusion of the film.  I am not a fan of this technique as I feel it is lazy.  The film attempts to fill the film noir genre, but doesn't execute as well as it could and falls out as just a 3 Quack film.

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