I think cinema, movies and magic have always been closely associated. The very earliest people who made films were magicians.
Francis Coppola

czwartek, 7 lutego 2013

Gangster Squad: the broken promise

Remember Zombieland? A strange compilation of classic zombie-movie attributes and some brand new stuff – technology, specific humor and a bit of absurdity. And it worked! It was different in a fun way and fresh. And fresh is good in the world, where we have probably more already invented themes and ideas for movies, than those still left for inventing. But if you want to adjust the same scheme to a gangster movie, you better sit and wonder about it for a minute, mister Fleischer. Because where in Zombieland zombie-apocalypse is all that’s needed to keep it going, in Gangster Squad an actual plot would be reasonable. But since a place called Within Reason seems to be unexplored by Ruben Fleischer’s imagination, a leap of faith is needed to watch Gangster Squad and then decide: hot or not?

What’s up? Well, after the WWII, when all the brave army boys came home to LA, they found out that there’s a new sheriff in town. An ex-boxer, power-craving gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a man of renaissance – he takes interest in whorehouses, drugs, horse bets, and every now and then likes feeding coyotes with this enemies, literally ripped apart. So where’s the police, you’d ask. Exactly where it usually is in gangster movies – in Cohen’s pocket. But there’s a group of few, still unpolluted and uncorrupted, and to gather them into the small and secret squad is a job for John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), known from his extraordinary hobby – being Mickey’s pain in the ass. Cleared for taking no hostages, O’Mara starts a war with the mob, accompanied by loverboy Wooters (Ryan Gosling), brainiac Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), shooting master Kennard (Robert Patrick), his Mexican sidekick Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Harris (Anthony Mackie), who just doesn’t give a damn about rules of any kind. One for all, all for one and stuff, but mostly it's about making Cohen cry.
Some men just want to watch the world burn
The general story is actually authentic, described in a Paul Liberman’s book, but was treated with such nonchalance by Will Beall in the scipt, it could be cathegorized as his own work. Chronology, facts, realism – who cares about them? The plot is only a frame, anyway.

And that's disappointing. Because Gangster Squad brought a promise of, well, something. We've seen classy cars, beautiful woman and men in suits on posters and trailers, we saw Ryan Gosling being a playboy, he surely knows, how to be, inviting sexy Emma Stone to bed and an I'm-so-scary Sean Penn, who probably wouldn't be happy about it.
That's my sexy face
But honestly, even the romance was flat. It all was. C'mon, I get pure entertainment and humour, I get fun and mixed genres, I get borrowings and caricature, but if you wanna do it, do it consistently. Do it well. GS just doesn't know what to be: a spoof or semi-serious gangsterish movie. It tried to do both and failed. First our titular squad comes to rob one of the Mickey's casinos, with faces covered like in westerns, no background check on the situation and car not starting, when they need to escape. Push! shouts the guy behind the steering wheel and they push and we laugh, because it's funny. But then we're served with some serious ''the war is over, but how to live afterwards" talk, and then someone gets hurt, and then it's like they've just realized: man, are we going after some dangerous folks? Yes, yes - you are. But do you want us to laugh about it or pity the men marked by war? Should we be surprised that the gangsters will eventually go after Squad's families? Or maybe it's all about mindlessly enjoying spectacular shootings and car chases? Because doing it all at the same time makes me think Tarantino and is definitely not the case here. 

But when you get over being confused, there are some things to be appreciated. The funny scenes were actually funny! And it's comedy came from different sources, unexpected ones and it made it special. Scenography certainly catches an eye, giving Gangster Squad a taste of kitschy-stylish taste. It was all so postcard-like, you could stop the shot, print it and sent to your family with birthday wishes. Plus intelligently implanted borrowings, tricks and schemes from cartoons, westerns and of course other great gangster movies, like The Untouchables. This young audience orientated measures, bringing in something fresh and new - it's unique. This uniqueness can eventually work out to be Fleischer's signature, but next time he might want to think twice what kind of movie to sign on. 

I waited for this movie eagerly, like a kid for the Christmas morning to open his presents. And even though the box was pretty and shiny and sometimes even had a moment of greatness, it was empty inside. Even such stars-filled cast couldn't help with one-dimensional characters and nonsense plot, and the movie seemed to be as confused as the audience in the matter of his genre and purpose. And just like the sad kid, I couldn't be bought with a pile of sweets: shootings, scenery, beautiful cars or funny scenes. An empty box is an empty box. End of story.
says Ryan and we'll just have to wonder: does he mean to the cinema or out of it?

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