Monday, January 14, 2013

GANGSTER SQUAD - a violent fantasy

Gangster Squad takes place in late 1940's LA terrorized by Mickey Cohen who takes pleasure in wreaking havoc in the sunny city. Many critics are poorly receiving the film, I believe I understand why but I also happen to have a different perspective. 

Gangster Squad is based on a true story. You can be sure that 'true' is likely meant to be loosely interpreted. The film has a palpable saccharine vibe—it feels overly saturated and sweet a la visual eye candy. The first ten minutes of ultra-violence was overstated and hardly realistic—therefore I assumed the rest of the of the film was going to be contemptible also, but amazingly, the facade grew on me. 

I wouldn't say that this was a great movie but it contained elements of interest. If you have ever viewed any of the old WB gangster movies starring James Cagney from White Heat or Edward G. Robinson from Little Caesar then maybe you will appreciate what the filmmakers went for. Realism was not the ultimate goal. This was not a Michael Mann picture. Moreover it was suggestive of fantasy—maybe how one would wish to remember the old gangster days. It was more like LA Confidential, although not near as good, and far less like HBO's Boardwalk Empire or The Sopranos. This fantasy style is not the 'in' thing right now. Supernatural is 'in' in  a big way with all the TV shows like Fringe, True Blood, Once Upon A Time, The Vampire Diaries etc etc etc and movies like Twilight, The Host, Harry Potter, Insert your favorite super hero movie etc etc etc. However, it seems to me like the most relevant demographics are into dark realistic fantasy over slightly over the top ambiguousness that somehow just doesn't feel right. Numerous people like fantasy films but still require anthropomorphic characters or creatures and the need for the laws of physics to apply, otherwise it will be hard to accept. Rarely, you will get a film that enables you to break the innate laws of the universe like The Matrix. Movies like this work because the film narrative revolves around why the laws can and must be broken and most important—it makes sense outside the normative universe. A film that does not try to convince you or throws in a one liner to help you accept the unreality is likely to fall by the wayside.

The story simply follows a lead detective on mission to wipe out Cohen. It's structured a bit like The Dirty Dozen or Seven Samurai. The actors felt strange at first but grow on you. The special effects are really quite good most of the time. Overall, an interesting ode to ancient cinematic gangster films and it will keep your attention, yet it does have a few flaws—likely the biggest of which is that it was released in 2013. 

Recommended Viewing: White Heat - Mulholland Falls - Carlito's Way

              Bob Scale: The Critic: 6.0   -   The Fan: 6.7
             MetaCritic: 40
 Rotten Tomatoes: 34
                    IMDB: 7.3

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