gangster_squad_quad-cast2-610x280Trailers for Ruben Fleischer‘s Gangster Squad have certainly miss-sold the movie, likening it to Brian De Palma‘s poignant yet exhilarating The UntouchablesIts nothing like a gangster film that master would be part of. No, its quite the opposite. This is something a master like James Cagney would be part of.

The clue is in the name. This is very much a film which revels in bringing to life a type of movie which has been sadly long absent from our screens; the old fashioned gangster yarn, reminiscent of of White Heat, The Public Enemy and the fantastic The Roaring Twenties.

The scene is well set with police sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) ignoring his criminal-wary partner’s advice and storming a whore house where a young woman has just been taken. The sequence sums up the film’s black and white crunch, good men realizing it might take knocking criminal’s teeth out to protect the law, whether they like it or not. And that a small force might have to take and give a beating to ensure what’s right happens.

Brolin’s John O’Mara is the centrepiece of the film and delivers a wonderful performance that manages to take itself seriously while staying the right side of hammy. Straight as a rod, O’Mara is the Man With No Name of the film, the soldier unable to adjust to a life without war. Its a solid, dependable role and depiction, written and portrayed just right, the kind of man you’d want in such chaos. Its nice to see such an old archetype crafted properly again. That’s not to say the writing of Will Beall does all the work, Brolin truly embraces the taught, stiff, good man in a hard place that cinema relies on.

But it’s not just Brolin who performs excellently here. Ryan Gosling, while never being the magnetic screen presence that Brolin is, is interestingly cast as the the WW2 tough guy now happy to sink into corrupt privilege. While Gosling has never been the most gripping of actors he’s made good use of here by pushing him through several changes, from keeper of the status-quo, to distraught vigilante, to righteous killer.

Also of note is Sean Penn who seems to be having fun for once. Chewing scenery like Al Pacino in Scarface, this isn’t going to be a performance for the ages, but its highly entertaining while it lasts. As the ex-boxer Jewish gangster Mickey Cohen he’s a very compelling character that’s exclusively driven by a lust for status and power. His viscous brutality is excellently built through the increasing violence he exhibits so that when the final fisticuffs between him and O’Mara takes place its genuinely tense.

Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen.

Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen.

Also of note is Robert Patrick as Max Kennard, an old gunslinger who’s clearly finding the clandestine call to arms a chance to play the cowboy. His skills at gun-fighting are both funny and impressive and its through him explicitly we know that Gangster Squad is an old-school mobster tale.

The film exudes a western vibe that comes as a real refreshment in a cinema of ultra-serious period crime films that oddly and stagnantly still emulate the 16 year old L.A. Confidential. As gangster films in general have become overly obsessed with psyche and corruption of the police force, Gangster Squad takes things back to the start.

Gangster Squad  is an action heavy film, but it’s pulled off with panache and skill, with the camera generally giving us a clear view of what’s going on and who’s shooting who. The action is shot in a modern way, but not resorting to shakey-cam allows the style to blend more seamlessly with the setting, improving on Public Enemies’ action.

Sean Penn & Josh Brolin

Sean Penn & Josh Brolin

The dialogue is enjoyably strewn with old euphemisms and and sayings that the actors clearly relish. Unfortunately some of them will leave you trying to work out their meanings, and before you know it another three have cropped up, distracting you from what’s happening.

Unfortunately locations are overused. While the brilliantly named club Slapsy Maxie’s is a nice set, others around it don’t seem to have the same care applied to them. Frequently the film returns to the same locations we’ve had enough of on the first visit. The many casinos also seem to blend into one another.

With a gripping tale of white hats Vs black hats and good men in bad times, this is an old school gangster flick that plays like Dick Tracy as a gritty reboot. This is Dick Tracy’s 21st century successor; pass the detective another magazine, I want a second shot.

By RJ Bayley.

Think this review was horribly misjudged or saw the film for what really is? Comment below!
Follow RJ Bayley on twitter: @Chunder_thunder
For more reviews and articles like this directly, follow Goats In The Machine on twitter: @GoatsInMachine

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