|'unashamed, occasionally unrestrained pulp, of the kind that has seen what Tarantino has to say on the matter and attempted to embrace it accordingly'|
That every review for Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad seems to mention L.A. Confidential or The Untouchables seems a little unfair. Whilst the subject matter is obviously similar, the aims and style deliberately vary. Fleischer's film is unashamed, occasionally unrestrained pulp, of the kind that has seen what Tarantino has to say on the matter and attempted to embrace it accordingly.
For a time, and at several points throughout, the director succeeds in embracing the kitsch values of overt stylisation. A final slow-motion shoot out - complete with gangsters tumbling down stairs and exploding Christmas tree baubles - plays nicely off violence that, whilst not quite 'ultra', is at least pleasantly grim, as the opening scene should make plain. Before that Gangster Squad is a film punctuated by several beautifully directed moments of Action. Wavering on how involved he wants to be in the crusade, Jerry (Ryan Gosling) watches a horrendous shoot-out. He injures a gangster and wanders over to him, shotgun held at point blank. 'You can't kill me', screams the man on the floor, 'you're a cop'. You can guess the rest. Occasionally it is perfect, charged, adult-orientated, do-gooder porn.
But, whilst Fleischer and screenwriter Will Beall are at home when it comes to the violent drama, they are at sea when the script calls for serious po-facedness, or emotional resonance of any kind. There's no chemistry between Gosling and Emma Stone, despite some evidence in Crazy, Stupid, Love to suggest this was possible. The film is bookended by two awful monologues by Brolin, which will surely end up as amongst the worst dialogue of the year. There's also an attempt to go down the route of postulating whether the avenging cops are really the good guys, but it's stunted, undeveloped and implicit anyway. Whenever anyone opens their mouth to consider something philosophical, it ends up feeling fake.
The tone too wavers from buddy comedy (the jail break and initial casino heist) to the aforementioned blood-letting, although each in isolation is enjoyable. The colours employed by Fleischer and cinematographer Dion Beebe hint that this wasn't quite meant to be taken seriously, but then surely a more knockabout-friendly lead than Brolin needed. He is clearly better suited to strong silent loners in the wrong place (Llewelyn Moss will forever now define him), where Beall's script seems to call for an every-man with at least passing knowledge of a one-liner.
Muddled, but perfectly fine to find relaxation and entertainment in, and Sean Penn's take on small of stature boxer-cum-kingpin Mickey Cohen is nothing if not riotous.