Gangster Squad Review

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Editorial and Opinion  |  House: Booksie Classic
My review of Ruben Fleischer's 'Gangster Squad.'

Submitted: January 13, 2013

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Submitted: January 13, 2013



Nick Mavroidakis had seen Friday 13th Part 7 twice. Midnight in the Ramada Inn, Culver City, Los Angeles, eating Domino’s and drinking Coors light he was watching it a third time, with me. A lot of teenagers are brutally killed in Friday 13th Part 7 and they show it all in gruesome, poor quality detail. Due to his familiarity with the film Nick pointed out the exact moments where the broadcasters had cut sex scenes or even brief snatches of nudity. Apparently the Americans see nothing wrong with a bit of throat slitting but think it threatening to show a flash of nipple or, God forbid, pubis.

Gangster Squad tells a very different L.A story. Hardly anyone drinks himself into a stupor in a broken Jacuzzi. It’s basically an uneasy marriage of L.A confidential and the Dirty Dozen. Without the razor sharp plotting + dialogue of the former or the balls-out fun of the latter.

As far as the story goes Sean Penn is a bad gangster who wants to take over L.A and is quite naughty. Josh Brolin loves fighting and has a pregnant wife. Ryan Gosling is handsome. A Policeman says that he’s fed up of Sean Penn being so naughty all the time so could Josh Brolin please not be a Policeman for a while but instead put together an insanely small team of weirdos and take down a city-controlling crime empire. Josh Brolin says “Yeah, alright.” Then everyone does loads of killing.

Before we went into the screen I said to my cinema-going buddy, flat mate and reluctant cat owner Joel that I “hoped it’d be like Sin City.” Then I went on for a while about how few M&Ms you get in a bag. What I meant was that I hoped the filmmakers had gone hell for leather, not fearing extremity and what a rip off. I mean, I’m not going to sit here and count them out or anything and I know they’re small but really.

Gangster Squad is a sort-of pulpy romp but it never quite hits its stride tonally. The violence is relentless and so casually handled that it started to make me feel uncomfortable. I was fucking loving it. As the body count mounted and the M&M count dwindled I started to question what it was that I was enjoying.

When the motivation for jamming a guy’s hand in a lift shaft and snapping it clean off is clear + we can empathize with it (i.e the hand-snapee has been a proper dickhead) then snap away but about half way through the film the story kind of washes away – the motivation is muddied - and all we’re left with is flying bullets and Sean Penn doing a weird impression of Bobby DeNiro having a stroke.

Legend has it that they re-shot a huge shoot out scene set in a cinema. Just before the film’s release a kid shot 70 people in Colorado at a midnight screening of Dark Knight Rises. The Gangster Squad cinema scene was so similar that they re-shot it, and re-located the mass shooting to Chinatown “out of respect for the families of the victims.” What if there had been a horribly tragic mass shooting in the Chinatown area though? Would they spend hundreds of $$$ shooting it a third time? Where does it stop?

The relationship between real-life violence and on-screen violence isn’t straightforward but what's the beef with on-screen sex? What is that apparently worse?

I mean, it’s a lovely thing. A nipple. Sex is great too isn’t it? I mean, from what I’ve seen and heard of it it seems to be the best way to show someone that you really love them or that you’re drunk and desperate. It happens everyday, all over the world, between real people. What’s so dangerous about it? We don’t want to encourage an activity known as “making love” now do we? Well shut up Tom. What about rapes? Yeah they are rubbish but did you know 14,000 people suffer from vegetable-related injuries every year in the UK alone? It’d be thought insane to censor a scene in which Judi Dench is chowing down on a courgette. Or how about removing a shot of Bruce Willis sitting on a sofa out of respect for the nearly 500,000 people (and their families) who are injured in sofa and sofa-bed related accidents in the U.S every year?

I highly doubt that kids will be inspired by Gangster Squad to go out and shoot a bunch of people. It’s nowhere near as iconic as it’s trying to be, although Gosling + Stone are super dreamboats in it. Unfortunately this is exactly the kind of film you end up watching at midnight in L.A in a cheap hotel room with two bald Mexicans fighting in the room above you, praying for a glimpse of Emma Stone’s breast, which will never appear. That’d be far too dangerous.

© Copyright 2019 Tom Levinge. All rights reserved.

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