Tommy guns, fake blood and trench coats – “Gangster Squad”

Having glossed over various reviews and seen the verdicts on Rotten Tomatoes I actually genuinely thought there’s something wrong with me, because it would seem I am the only person on Earth that actually enjoyed watching “Gangster squad”. There, I said it. Actually, I think the relentless bashing of this film that is going on in the interwebs at the moment is largely caused by the inability of certain people to stop taking it so seriously.

For the most part, the negative opinions about this film concentrate on the apparent glorification of nonsensical violence that constitutes a large chunk of this film. Sure, I can give you that – it is a bloody show. Then again, am I the only person out there that noticed the director wink-wink-nudge-nudging me from behind the screen the whole bloody time?

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I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s back it up a notch. “Gangster squad” is a flick about a mobster from the late 40’s, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) that suffers from a violent kind of the god complex, like your usual gangsters do. So he figured, he’d take over LA and make it his own private little sandpit where he could racketeer, murder and intimidate to his heart’s content. So, in order to stop him, the chief of LA Police (Nick Nolte) asks one of the most dedicated (of course) detectives on the force (Josh Brolin) to assemble a group of daredevils-slash-knuckleheads that would give Cohen a run for his money, while operating under the radar. Thus The Gangster Squad takes shape. And the story goes from there… Does it sound familiar?

Oh, I should add… Point of note: As the first frames of the film inform us, “Gangster squad” is “based on a true story” (Oh, for the love of God). But I dare say that the only thing that is more or less true in this film is the fact that Mickey Cohen was an actual person. Back in the day, there was this guy who happened to be a gangster in LA and maybe the police tried to do something about it. Other than that, really don’t take it too seriously. It’s like trying to raise a point that “Jaws” were based on a true story because there was this one time when this shark came along and it killed a bunch of people and it was so big and awesome that they started telling stories about it… or something like that.

So, the question was, if the story sounds familiar to you at all. Well, of course it does. As far as I’m concerned, the whole movie is one gigantic cliché. And I don’t mean it in a bad way, I actually think that the fact “Gangster squad” at an atomic level is a collection of cheesy one-liners, bad puns, and grotesque one-dimensional characters all covered in a thick layer of fake blood make it into what I can only describe as solid entertainment. Let’s be honest for a moment: judging by the trailer alone I wouldn’t dare walk into the cinema and expect a serious gangster film. You want to watch a serious film, go and put “The Godfather” on, or “Scarface”… or “Goodfellas”. Don’t make this mistake. I’ll even spell it out for you: if you think for a second “Gangster squad” pretends to be the next “LA confidential” – think again. Why am I so adamant about that? Look at Fleischer’s previous efforts. Does anyone in their right mind think that “Zombieland” belongs with the horribly serious zombie flicks? (As much as one could say that any zombie movie is trying to be serious, but most of them do – otherwise they don’t stand a chance at being scary or at least disgusting.) No! Everybody knows “Zombieland” was a farce and nobody had a problem with that. But when the guy tries to make a non-serious gangster flick, then it’s too far. What is it, then? What’s the difference between the two? Is it the zombies? So, it’s fine to make a gore-fest of a movie as long as it’s the zombies that are gladly taking bullets to their brainless heads? Is this where the line in the sand lies? Dismembered bodies, guts, blood – the whole shebang – OK with zombies, but substitute the filthy, smelly dead people that moan and groan the whole damn time for clean shaven men with well-groomed moustaches wearing perfectly cut suits and hats to match – oh, now it’s too far. Now the violence takes the lead and every one of you critics out there fail to see past the blood because all of a sudden – it’s no longer funny or acceptable. For shame!

Or maybe it’s the “based on a true story” line that welcomed you in the cinema? Because that’s what happens when you see it, right? The seriousness kicks in and all of a sudden you’re physically incapable of enjoying a movie. If I tell you that “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was based on true events (because it’s just about as much based on a true story as “Gangster squad” is), then would you start shaming the film in the papers? Well, you should, right? Because had I not mention that, you’d even go as far as to call it a classic of the genre. Now that you know that, you’re somehow compelled not to enjoy what you see on the screen, because your friends might think you’re insensitive to human tragedy. It’s a movie, not a documentary. It’s not trying to be serious, so get over yourselves and have fun, for crying out loud!

Rant – over.

Now that I have soiled the carpet with suppressed aggression I can go and actually say why I really liked “Gangster squad”. I think it’s mainly because it has this subliminal thing that makes you think the director actually sits behind you and giggles the whole time. As if he was having a laugh at your expense.

“See this moron? He actually went and bought the ticket. This is awesome! Look, oh… How cute… He’s taking it seriously…”

As if the film was a big joke. And it is. It’s a superhero flick without superheroes. It’s “The Avengers” minus the spandex. Look at it this way: forget the fact it’s the 40’s gangsters and such and imagine that instead you have this boy band of superheroes… Or cowboys… Or super-cowboys. Just pick one. So there’s this team of comic-book characters, where each of them has this one quality that makes them unique. There’s the pretty one (Gosling), there’s the just one (Brolin) who puts his job beyond everything else (even his family), there’s the smart one (Ribisi), there’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later-man (Patrick), there’s the token (Mackie) knucklehead and there’s this idiot that tagged along who gets in the way all the time, needs to be saved all the time, but eventually pulls through to prove his worth by saving the day. There’s also a damsel in distress (Stone) – there cannot be a superhero western (let’s face it; they are both one and the same, ‘kay?) without a pretty lady tied to the train tracks – and there’s Magneto/Dr Doom/insert-villain (Penn) who is this ultra-violent scary guy going to great lengths in order to get rid of these pesky superheroes. Of course, every super-villain has his reasons for what he does; otherwise it would be too complex. In “Gangster squad” everybody has just one face. There’s kryptonite, there are boss fights, there’s a montage of how our superheroes plow through the lesser evils, there’s the final showdown, there’s everything a superhero movie/western needs to stay just about on the right side of the pop cultural cliché.

Speaking of clichés, the world in “Gangster squad” is just riddled with corny references. Every serious gangster needs to be doing his dirty work in iconic places, be it dropping a snitch into the river from the Brooklyn Bridge or getting rid of competition under the Hollywood sign. Every serious chief of police needs to have a voice as if he was a self-confessed alcoholic with at least 50 years of experience. Every department head within the police has to be kind of an asshole. Every gangster has to wear a trench coat whilst on the job. Every kill needs to be finished off with a corny one-liner. The list goes on and on… Normally, you’d see one or two of those in a given movie and immediately use them to smear the film with poop, but when you see them all in one place, you should know this is done on purpose.

All things considered, I thoroughly enjoyed “Gangster squad” with all its Dick-Tracy-ness. It’s well-shot and composed. The story follows a strict pattern, but as I hope I explained, I think that’s the point of this whole thing. I don’t want to go as far as to compare it to “Sin City” because there’s a certain kind of emotional payload that would have to go with it. It’s not a poor attempt at gangster cinema; it’s the noir with a pinch of sarcasm. What am I talking about? It’s pretty much all sarcasm with a pinch of noir. So I can’t agree with all those poor fussy schmucks who – it would appear – don’t have a sense of humour.

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2 thoughts on “Tommy guns, fake blood and trench coats – “Gangster Squad”

  1. Now it all makes sense. I kept looking at the trailer for this movie thinking, “That looks terrible.” But I was looking at it as a serious movie. If it is supposed to be a comedy then it might be absolute genius, just like Zombieland was! Thanks for the review.

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    • Thanks for your comment. Sorry about the timing – still getting used to how wordpress handles things (and your comment was sitting in the spam folder for nearly 10 days). You’re absolutely right – when you look at the trailer, it really looks damn bad. But when you actually sit down and watch the whole thing, you see the massive tongue-in-cheek.

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