14 January 2013

GANGSTER SQUAD (Dir. Ruben Fleischer, 2013, US) - Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen.
The first twenty minutes or so of this pedestrian genre film is vehemently atrocious and made me wince repeatedly at the lame dialogue, shoddy voice over and stereotypical L.A. noir imagery. It’s as if someone forgetfully mixed up the final edit whereby the first reel got switched for a jokey editor’s version in which competent artists are made to look ridiculously inept at their day job. Even the simple enough task of recording a decent narration comes undone by actor Josh Brolin’s wooden delivery; just say it like you mean it. There’s nothing wrong with paying tribute to past genres and even demonstrating a nostalgic fondness for classical Hollywood cinema but to do so requires a certain finesse and confidence. Unfortunately, conviction is something severely lacking from this expensive studio film which uses a narrative that is disappointingly sedate, if not, disgracefully unoriginal. Yes, it’s the narrative about the crusading cops who launch an all out war against the bad guys of L.A. and in this case, the particularly cartoonish bad guy of Mickey Cohen, played stupefyingly by Sean Penn in one of his more mainstream appearances. Mediocre director Ruben Fleischer arguably surrounds himself with a lot of talent including the likes of Ryan Gosling, Dion Beebe (cinematographer) and Mahar Ahmad (production designer) but this simply amounts to window dressing in what is an inconsequential piece of filmmaking. Apparently, Gangster Squad was plagued with reshoots and this does not surprise me since it is a film that refuses to intellectualise and politicise its themes like recent studies of Los Angeles such as Collateral and L.A. Confidential. Fleischer dangerously relies on an intertextual mode of address that incorporates the cinematic past in the shape of noir, gangster and crime films to offer an over indulgent escapist veneer. Nothing penetrates us ideologically – everything functions and operates in a universe in which simplistic morality thrives. Fleischer’s first film Zombieland was a welcome addition to the Zombie genre and works largely on the charm of Woody Harrelson’s character. As a filmmaker, he is barely competent and it is interesting to compare a film like Gangster Squad to another recent period gangster film like Public Enemies to illustrate the void in terms of creativity. In fact, Gangster Squad hijacks the aesthetics of films such as Public Enemies as it seems only interested in fetishizing genres and all at the expense of any concrete ideological considerations of a post war 1940s America. Nevertheless, Gosling and co opportunistically smoke cigarettes, wear classy suits and walk stoically down the, ahem, the chandleresque ‘mean streets’ of Los Angeles. The problematic of such noble posturing is that masculinity becomes caught up in a tide of hegemonic self-righteousness. The film Gangster Squad desperately tries to imitate is Beatty’s underrated and largely forgotten Dick Tracy.


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