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Cinema Scope

Big guns, no fire

19th Jan 2013

Gangster Squad

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte and others

Given Ruben Fleischer's penchant for comedy, I suspected Gangster Squad was a spoof when it opened with a tough-guy voiceover and the trembling of ancient muscles, followed by a man being torn apart like a Christmas cracker. No. Turns out they're really serious about this one. And from quoting Edmund Burke's "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing", to spouting lines like, "You'll wake up one morning with your best part stuffed into your mouth", the film doesn't skirt a single gangster movie cliché.

Now, that's all very well if you like watching four men walk tough as a fifth smokes nonchalantly, leaning against a car while another blows up in the background. Or, if you like violent fights choreographed to opera music, with blood squirting out in ballet leaps. But this offers us nothing new, nothing that hasn't been done – and done better – before. There are some delicious lines, and the comic timing of the screenplay stands testimony to Fleischer's skill in that genre. However, in aspiring to gangster kitsch, the film has way too many ridiculous set pieces.

When a film claims to be based on real events, perhaps the way to go about it is to pare down the drama of it all, like the makers of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy did. Guns, bowler hats and trench coats are dramatic enough, without studiedly suspicious glances, the constant rattle of machine guns, and the biting out of lines as if carrots were stuck to the actors' palates.

The other problem I have with the setting is that, while the production quality is quite wonderful, the dialogue is at odds with the era. The costumes, colours, signboards, and music take us back to 1949, when Hollywood was 'Hollywoodland', but the star cast is stuck in the wrong decade. Their drawls are not the staccato of the Forties and Fifties. And all the hair gel in the world won't disguise an anachronism like, "All good things have to be burned to the ground one day for the insurance money."

At times, the story shows promise, but it's undermined by unlikely twists, and confused character sketches. I mean, I get why a wife would break a dinner plate when her cop husband decides to take on a ruthless criminal, but I don't see how she could be cheerfully shortlisting prospective comrades over breakfast. The nail in the coffin is a saccharine final voiceover that wouldn't be out of place in a Disney production.

The Verdict: Yet another run-of-the-mill tribute to the great gangster films that catapulted Hollywood's Italian-origin bad boys to fame.

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