Film Review: Gangster Squad

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Gangster Squad is an entertaining but flawed gangster film. Despite some inconsistencies the film is enjoyable.

In the Los Angeles of 1949 Sgt. John O’Mara is a rare honest cop in a city rife with corruption. With mafia boss Mickey Cohen holding influence in all levels of authority, O’Mara must work covertly with a small group of officers in order to smash his operation…

Gangster Squad is a by the numbers gangster feature with the requisite action, crime and corruption. At the very beginning it seems as if the film is aiming for a noir approach but this is quickly dispelled. Instead it is a more straightforward gangster picture.

The plot, a violent game of cat and mouse, throws up few surprises. The mood of the film is the aspect that may raise eyebrows. At various points the film is humorous, a take on the traditional gangster movie and a serious action film. It is most fun when it takes on the former two personas. The latter, in the final third, is less enjoyable.

Violence in the film is frequent. The dominant message appears to be only violence get beat violence. This is addressed explicitly in the film, but a satisfactory response is never ascertained. There is no more nuanced a message than honest cops are the good guys.

The costumes and sets are great. It is a pity that the camera work does not quite match this aesthetic. The slow motion is unnecessary. If the entire film was comic-like this may have worked. The dialogue is at times pithy, but can descend into delusions of grandeur in the more serious moments. Performances are good overall. Josh Brolin is well cast as honest cop O’Mara while Gosling offers the best delivery. Anthony Mackie is underused as ever, while Sean Penn has fun with his caricature role.

Gangster Squad is never a chore. It is fun and entertaining in spite of some flaws.

Trailer Round-Up

This week is all about the The Expendables 2. Well, not really but the trailer was released this week. Gangster Squad, Brave and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter also feature in this round-up.

The Expendables 2

This film looks amazing. I was one of the people who quite liked the The Expendables, so I am looking forward to this sequel. The Expendables 2 features more of Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as well as Chris Hemsworth, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Chuck Norris. Let’s hope the film matches this stellar action cast. The Expedendables 2 is out on 17th August 2012.

Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad is the new film from director Ruben Fleischer. Starring Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling, the film tells the story of the LAPD’s battle with gangsters in the late 1949. The film is being distributed by Warner Bros, who were famed for the gangster movies in the 1930s. Hopefully Gangster Squad will bring back some of that magic. The film is released on 9th November 2012 in the UK.

Brave

Here is an amusing little video to promote Disney’s Brave. The Scottish theme is really being played up in the film’s publicity. Brave will be out in the UK on 17th August 2012, although cinemagoers in Scotland will be able to see the film two weeks before this. Brave will premiere at the Edinburgh Film Festival in June, so expect to hear more about the film around that time.

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter

Above is a short featurette about Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. The film’s UK release date has been brought forward; the film will now open on 20th June 2012, bringing it in line with the US release. Given the premise of the film, it should be a lot of fun to watch Lincoln fight vampires in 3D.

Film Review: This Must Be the Place

Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be the Place is a funny and poignant drama. An imperfect film, This Must Be the Place is an absorbing endeavour nevertheless.

Cheyenne is a former rock star who now lives with his wife in Ireland. He has a routine existence, seeing the same people and visiting the same places. When he learns his father is ailing, Cheyenne travels to America for the first time in many years. Finding out about his father’s trauma during World War II, Cheyenne embarks on a mission to find his father’s persecutor, now living under an assumed name in the United States…

This Must Be the Place is an interesting character study. The film carefully unwraps the character of Cheyenne; and charts his development through the course of the narrative. The protagonist is interesting from the beginning because of his appearance and mannerisms. What sustains the audience’s attention is watching the character gently evolve as he finds out more about himself and his relationship with others.

There are some great amusing moments in This Must Be the Place, which are greatly complimented by the film’s more poignant episodes. The film does slack a bit in the second half; it could have easily been trimmed down. Nevertheless, Sorrentino’s film is still engaging.

Sean Penn offers a memorable performance as Cheyenne. Penn is engrossing as the aging former rock star, with a performance that steals the viewer’s attention. Good support is provided by Frances McDormand and Judd Hirsch. This Must Be the Place is a little unusual, but well worth the watch.

This Must Be the Place is being screened at the BFI London Film Festival in October 2011.

Film Review: Fair Game

Fair Game may well be one of those incidences where the real life story is actually more interesting than the film depiction. The bustling start fizzles, giving way to more sluggish proceedings for the rest of the film.

Valerie Plame is an undercover CIA agent living with her former ambassador husband Joe Wilson and their young twins. Joe is asked to go to Niger to investigate a possible of a uranium deal with Saddam Hussein. Joe reports back that the sale did not occur, but George W. Bush’s administration uses it as justification to go to war with Iraq. When Joe speaks out publicly, Valerie’s identity is leaked…

The problem with a cinematic adaptation of recent historical events is that most of the audience will remember how the real events played out. This can work as an appeal of the film; people who were intrigued by events may want to see a dramatisation. Nevertheless, when such incidents have been widely reported, others may have little interest in a story they already are very familiar with.

Fair Game combines feature-film drama with real news footage from the time. This interspersing of the fictional and the factual goes some way to grounding the drama in reality. Writers Jez and John-Henry Butterworth (basing their screenplay on books by Joe Wilson and Valerie Plame) amalgamate the political with the personal. Rather than just a chain of events, Fair Game illuminates the impact of the revelation on Plame, and how this affects the relationship she has with her family. In trying to provide this very personal angle to the story, filmmakers are only partially successful. The strain the events have on Plame and Wilson is clear, however these scenes are not particularly gripping.

Perhaps most interesting in Fair Game is the subplot featuring Plame’s on-going cases. The film insinuates that many are placed in danger by Plame’s sudden removal from duties. As Fair Game concentrates on Plame and Wilson however, these cases are pushed by the wayside. It is a shame, as these strands offered the most intrigue and tension.

Naomi Watts offers a competent performance as Valerie Plame. Sean Penn is also capable, although the role of the impassioned, righteous individual is very typical of his choice of role.

Ultimately it is Doug Liman’s lackadaisical direction that lets Fair Game down. The film should have offered more tension and more momentum. In this case, the interesting story has not translated into an interesting film.