Friday, January 11, 2013

Gangster Squad [2013]

MPAA (R)  CNS/USCCB (L)  Michael Phillips (2 Stars)  AVClub (D+)  Fr. Dennis (2 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB review
Michael Phillips' review
AV Club's review

Since America's film industry remains centered around Hollywood in Los Angeles, CA, interesting, often scandalous tid-bits of Los Angeles' history inevitably find their way into our films.  However, how these "tid bits" from L.A.'s history get incorporated into our films is not exactly straight forward and there have been all kinds of approaches.  Consider simply:

(1) the venerable "neo-noir" film Chinatown [1974], directed by Roman Polanski and staring Jack Nicholson inspired by murky water-rights disputes in the early 1900s, the resolution of which making the metropolis of Los Angeles possible;

(2) the screwball comedy 1941 [1979], directed by Steven Spielberg and staring Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi conflating two WW II-era Los Angeles stories, that of the hysteria caused by the "phantom raid" on Los Angeles in early 1942 and the "zootsuit" race riots between white sailors/marines and hispanic youths in Los Angeles;

(3) the Disney animated "noirish comedy" Who Framed Roger Rabbit? [1988] about the conspiracy by a consortium lead by General Motor which bought-out Southern California's "Red Car" public transportation service in the early 1950s with the purpose of shutting-it-down to make "pave the way" for automobile expressways and increases in auto-sales, a conspiracy the film called "so stupid that only a 'toon' [a cartoon villian] could come up with it." and finally back to

(4) the neo-noir classic LA Confidential [1997], starring Kevin Spacey, Russell Crowe, Kim Bassinger and Danny DeVito giving a rather grim answer to the question of why the mob never made a permanent inroad into Los Angeles: the police itself conducted itself like the mob. 

All these films tell, often with swagger/exaggeration, some part of Los Angeles' story.  It is in the context of this celluloid legacy that Gangster Squad (directed by Ruben Fleischer, screenplay by Will Beall, loosely based on the non-fiction book by the same name by Paul Lieberman) is to be understood.

For it is clear that while some of the characters in Gangster Squad, notably LA Police Chief Bill Parker (played in the film by Nick Nolte), his aide (shown briefly) Daryl Gates (played in the film by Josh Pence) who later also became a similarly legendarily hard-nosed LA Police Chief (and was L.A. Police Chief at the time of the 1992 L.A. Riots) as well as the film's chief villain, gangster Mickey Cohen (played in the film by Sean Penn) and even the film's chief hero, World War II vet turned LAPD Sargent and Parker's special/off-the-books "Gangster Squad" leader John O'Mara (played in the film by Josh Brolin) were all real people, the "stew" that the film-makers put together does _not_ fit the historical record (simply check the wikipedia article on Mickey Cohen).

So what to make of the film?  Well, it's a "period piece."  It is "inspired by a true story."  The "off the books Gangster Squad" apparently really did exist.  But the rest is, well, "Hollywood."  Does that take away from the performances by Nolte, Penn, Brolin as well as Giovanni Ribisi (who played the "gangster squad's" radio/bug man Sgt Keeler, who again really existed), and of others like Mirielle Enos (who played O'Mara's wife Connie), Ryan Gosling (a squad member) and Emma Stone (girlfriend of Cohen though also involved with Ryan Gosling's character) who's characters become ever "less historical"?  No, just don't read too much history into the film?  Look above and begin to think again in terms of Disney's "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" ("Which 'toon' represented 'General Motors?'" ;-)

However, since Gangster Squad is not altogether "historical" a more important complaint could be made (and especially in light of the recent shooting massacres in Aurora, Colorado and the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT) whether it was wise for the for the film makers to focus on and certainly exaggerate the story's violence.  Yes, the creation of the "off the books" squad itself indicated a determined "take Cohen down by any means necessary" approach taken by LA Police Chief Parker.  (And this in itself has produces its own problems: Thoughout the 1960s-1980s anti-Communist paramiliary "Death Squads" killed all kinds of people, Communists and non ..., throughout Latin America.  Do we really want to give Police, or anyone, unlimited powers with little/no accountability?)  Still, if the way Cohen was actually arrested and actually sentenced to Alcatraz was emphatically not the way the film-makers chose to portray his downfall, then why (wildly...) exaggerate the number of deaths/bullets?

So to be honest, I ended up rather disappointed with the film believing that though the individual performances were good, the story cheated both the author of the original (and true) story as well as the audience.  We, the book's original author and even the actors deserved better.

<< NOTE - Do you like what you've been reading here?  If you do then consider giving a small donation to this Blog (sugg. $6 _non-recurring_) _every so often_ to continue/further its operation.  To donate just CLICK HERE.  Thank you! :-) >>

No comments:

Post a Comment