Gangster Squad – Film Review

Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad opens on Sean Penn as real-life mobster Mickey Cohen, alone in a boxing ring. With a murderous glare and muscly arms more scary-looking than Madonna’s (incidentally, Penn’s ex-wife) he beats a punching bag violently whilst Josh Brolin details through voiceover how awesomely criminal Cohen is. Because director Ruben Fleischer doesn’t think this convinces us enough that Cohen is a cold-blooded psycho we cut to a remote location where he has a man chained to two cars pointing in opposite directions. Cohen instructs his goons to drive and audience cheers at the bloody violence thrown at them before they’ve even had a chance to sit down.

Mickey Cohen’s mafia occupation is a force that 1950s Hollywoodland can do without. That is why the incorruptible LAPD Chief recruits Josh Brolin’s equally honest Sgt. John O’Mara, a too-dedicated-to-the-force war veteran, to put together an unofficial squad to not just arrest Cohen but to destroy him.

Although some may find it odd that director Ruben Fleischer has seemingly taken a different route from his previous efforts Gangster Squad isn’t all that different from Zombieland and 30 Minutes Or Less. They all play host to dark humour, they all feature excessive violence, and they all play with their genres in ways that we don’t see often. It may play the plot straight but at the same time it is certainly no The Untouchables.

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Without crossing into parody the squad O’Mara selects are pretty laughable. The gang are sincere in their efforts to take down Cohen’s operation but run into problems only Mr Bean could have if he ever challenged the mob. Needless to say, the misfits are incredibly hard to not love. Brolin is excellent as the group’s leader whose biggest flaw is his dedication to his Protect And Serve oath, constantly endangering himself, ticking his pregnant wife right off. As friend, Sgt. Jerry Wooter, Ryan Gosling somehow balances cutie-pie with hard-nosed cop brilliantly, falling in love with Cohen’s favourite “doll”, Grace, played by Emma Stone (which makes the pair two for two in playing love interests in a film they both star in – the other being Crazy Stupid Love). The rest of the gang consists of veteran character actor Robert Patrick whose skills put to shame loyal Michael Peña, doubter Anthony Mackie and the reserved but bold Giovanni Ribisi.

Sticking to cliché most of the way some may sneer at Gangster Squad, but it spreads itself equally between set pieces and long dialogues, making it easier watch than most crime films without becoming a soulless actioner.

Gangster Squad is one of those fine films that fills you with absurd excitement; the kind of film that has you imitating the characters for the rest of your evening. Just like I put my socks on my hands and pretend to shoot webs right after seeing any Spider-Man film, Gangster Squad had me adding “lickety split” to every sentence and firing an imaginary tommy gun everywhere as I travelled home. Les Miserables this weekend? Gangster Squad, lickety split!

4-Stars-Rather-Pleased

Top 10 Road Trip Films (I Own)

For the next week and a half I will be roaming around the South West of England in a yellow VW Campervan called Barney embarking on A Very English Road Trip. To celebrate I’ve compiled a list of the top ten road trip movies I own on DVD. An odd criteria for a film list but these film lists are superficial at the best of times.

Away We Go
A surprisingly light-hearted film from Sam Mendes as a young couple visit friends and relatives while trying to find the right place to bring up their imminent baby. John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph are a convincing couple and provide the sanity amongst the crazy characters they visit. Maggie Gyllenhaal and Allison Janney are the two main highlights along their journey.

Catfish
The only documentary on this list, Catfish follows the burgeoning online romance between Yaniv Schulman and the sister of a young artist he has been emailing. After some suspicious events Yaniv and his friends travel to the mystery girl’s house and uncover something they had never expected. There is debate about this documentary’s authenticity, either way it makes for a gripping watch.

The Darjeeling Limited
Wes Anderson takes his signature style on the road, or rather on the track, as three brothers travel through India by train, looking for their mother and getting to grips with the loss of their father. Jason Schwartzmann, Adrien Brody and Owen Wilson fit perfectly with Anderson’s tone as the three brothers and their journey is as much emotional as it is physical. Natalie Portman makes a brief, but revealing, appearance in the preceding short film.

The Go-Getter
The most indie film on the list unites Sundance darlings Lou Taylor Pucci, Zooey Deschanel and Jena Malone and brought together for the first time the she and him in She & Him. A young man has a quarter life crisis, steals a car and discovers love, and himself, on the road. A little bit twee to ever be successful, this is worth a watch if you are a fan of the cast, or just enjoy a gentle film about someone abandoning life and hitting the road.

Into the Wild
Speaking of a young man having a quarter life crisis and hitting the road… This time round the traveller is played by Emile Hirsch with a pre-Twilight Kristen Stewart providing the tempting romance he finds along the way. Stewart’s role is quite small though and this is the biggest single-hander of the lot, with Hirsch the only character present throughout. This was Sean Penn’s last work behind the camera and is proof he should do more.

Little Miss Sunshine
An amazing cast go travelling in a yellow VW Campervan (not called Barney) in order to get Abigail Breslin to her beauty pageant. Darkly funny and more than a little moving this road trip ends the way all movies should, with a big dance number. Kevin Bacon would be proud. The film is notable for featuring Steve Carell’s most subdued performance, and for inspiring the colour scheme of this very website.

O Brother, Where Art Thou?
Even the Coen Brothers have made a road trip film, theirs being an adaptation of Homer’s The Odyssey and starring George Clooney, John Turturro and Tim Blake Nelson as three escaped convicts searching for hidden treasure. Encountering all manner of characters and obstacles along the way this is the quintessential road trip film, and the only one to involve the KKK.

Transamerica
Any good road trip forces the film to shift focus from traditional plot or location and instead focus on the characters who are the only constant through the film, and their relationships. Few films utilise this better than Transamerica as Felicity Huffman’s pre-op transsexual meets her son for the first time as she ferries him across country under the guise of being a charity worker.

Wristcutters: A Love Story
While most of these films involve travelling across the United States, Wristcutters moves beyond the world of the living and instead is set in an afterlife reserved for people who commit suicide. Shortly after his death Patrick Fugit hears that his old girlfriend, Leslie Bibb, has also killed herself and so takes his room-mate and tries to find her. Along the way he encounters some charmingly rustic supernatural elements and Tom Waits, who also provides the soundtrack.

Zombieland
While everyone in Wristcutters is dead, most of the people our travellers come across in this film are the undead. Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson travel through the post-apocalyptic landscape in search of Twinkies and instead find Emma Stone (swoon), Abigail Breslin (road trip queen) and more zombies than you can shake a double barreled shotgun at. One of cinema’s greatest cameos is the icing on this zombie cake.

If there’s anything all these films have in common, it’s that the destination is not the important part, it’s the journey and characters that are key when the film has no other consistent element.