Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad posterIt seems Friday nights at the cinema and films set within the Los Angeles Police Department that I have totally missed are becoming a trend – following End of Watch a couple of weeks back tonight it was time for Gangster Squad.

The first thing I noticed about the film was the cast list on the poster outside the Mallard Cinema and that got me a bit worried. While all of the actors are ones I have enjoyed performances by in the past, or have heard good reports of, seeing so many on one poster recently has generally led to poorly thought out rom-coms.

I’m pleased to say that from the start this is not the case.

We start with a voiceover from Josh Brolin’s cop as we fly across 1949 LA up to the Hollywoodland sign where we meet our antagonist, Mickey Cohen, and it becomes clear we are in the world of pulp and noir from the off.

Gangster Squad - Sean PennDespite the ‘Inspired by a true story’ title card the dialogue from the start is pure pulp and Sean Penn’s inspired performance as mob boss Cohen highlights this. But, it also highlights a strange juxtaposition within the movie, that the dialogue, which is possibly intentionally ‘bad’ (but always perfectly judged), is counterbalanced by a series of great performances which, from the outside, are very stereotypical of a kind of noir b-movie, but clearly all have an extra level to them.

As well as Penn, Brolin’s hero-cop is proof of this as you can see the thought processes behind their eyes as they face off across the movie and there is an intensity within them both that carries the bulk of the drama.

Gangster Squad - Josh BrolinAway from the acting the way the film is shot gives it a strange quality. I’m assuming that it was shot on digital as it is all very smooth and this is another element that gives the film a real sense of heightened pulp reality.

My one issue with this heightened reality is that, at times, it feels like watching a very, very realistic video game version of this world and the whole thing bears an uncanny resemblance to Rockstar’s LA Noire to such a degree that I wonder if the original intention was to make a movie version of the video game.

Notable in the cinema tonight was the reaction to some of the violence. While not as extreme as we get in many movies, there are some very graphic moments (notably involving a car and a fairly primitive power drill) that, while not out of place, certainly are a bit shocking within the context of what is, essentially, a bit of a romp of a movie.

While Gangster Squad is far from a great film, and is somewhat imbalanced by what seems to be a confusion over its style and its direction at times, it is highly entertaining and, in a world where gangster movies always seem to be trying to outdo each other for realism and ‘grittiness’ this is predominantly pure entertainment set in a heightened pulpy world that brings to mind something of sub-Tarantino style.

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