October 4, 2014

WATCH ME IF YOU CAN | Gangster Squad

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By MARINA WATTS

I recently rewatched Ruben Fleisher’s film Gangster Squad,and my original opinion of it still stands. This film got more hype than it deserved, but it had so much potential to be better than it actually was. A phenomenal cast was pieced together consisting of Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte and Ryan Gosling.

With the director of Zombieland working with these critically acclaimed actors, one could not expect such a recipe for disaster. The stylized film-noir flick could have had the potential of an extremely badass crime film. Unfortunately, it turned out to be just as quality as Baz Luhrmann’s artsy Gatsby (which was unimpressive, to say the least).

Gangster Squad is the story of Mickey Cohen’s (Penn) gang activity in 1950s Los Angeles.  Cohen was known for his ruthless mob activity with the Jewish Mafia, along with the American Mafia. The LAPD led by Chief Parker (Nolte) enlists Sergeant O’Mara (Brolin) to assemble a motley crew-esque team of policemen in hope of taking down Cohen and his mob.  It sounds like a great plot, but there was so much that could have been improved to make this movie worth a re-watch (or watch, if you haven’t seen it yet).

As far as the dialogue goes for this film, it could have been so much better, considering the roster Fleisher had to work with. The script was terrible as all emotion was sucked out of lines that should have made the film more thrilling. Although the “film noir” air mustered up on screen calls for hard-boiled dialogue, it felt more forced than natural.

One of the officers O’Mara hires, Jerry Wooters (Gosling) gets swept into an affair with the beautiful etiquette coach of Cohen. The sub-plot of his affair with Grace Faraday (Stone) was rather disappointing. Compared to the on-screen chemistry Gosling and Stone had in Crazy Stupid Love, they had nothing in Gangster Squad. Stone does a decent job at portraying the damsel-in-distress stereotype, but her acting ability is exponentially beyond this. The typical crime-drama stereotypes are seen in this film, but sadly aren’t expanded upon. The hard-boiled dialogue and melodrama was very disappointing; perhaps Nicholas Cage should have been casted for this type of atmosphere?

Nick Nolte, who played Chief Bill Parker, got little to no screen time, which is simply a waste of talent. I needn’t say more.

For what the film had to offer, the costumes and make-up were well done. Stone’s appearance displayed an accurate interpretation for the “femme fatale” stereotype. Penn spent three hours every day getting ready for the film. The result was impressive, but sadly make-up alone couldn’t bring this film back on its feet with regards to the plot. Perhaps the time and money spent in make-up could have been used elsewhere? Imagine the results if energy was focused on other aspects of Gangster Squad…

Another redeeming quality of this film was its soundtrack.  Any fan of The Aviator’s soundtrack will love it, as I bought it the night I saw the film. Featuring classic artists such as Peggy Lee, Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer, you can’t go wrong with this upbeat compilation of 1950s big band music and cabaret tunes.

Overall, Gangster Squad was a disappointing guppy of a film in a sea of box-office hits.  The positive aspects of Gangster Squad don’t necessarily outweigh the bad. Pure satisfaction would only be guaranteed if you watched the film with no dialogue and only the soundtrack playing in the background. Only then would aesthetics will take over for the better as the dialogue is completely eliminated.

Marina Watts is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at mcw236@cornell.edu.

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