You wanna know how to make The Untouchables for the so-called MTV Generation? They cast double Oscar-winner Robert De Niro as the bad guy; you cast double Oscar-winner Sean Penn. They have a dreamy Latino marksmen in the shape of Andy Garcia; you cast Michael Peña as a dreamy Latino marksman. And fuck it; get Ryan Gosling in as well. That’s the Hollywood way!
Back in our 2013 preview I asked if Gangster Squad was going to be “this generation’s The Untouchables or Dick Tracy”. Well, I didn’t expect them to answer so literally in the former. This film is essentially a remake in all but name. The city may be different, and under threat from a different historically-inspired gangster, but the main elements are all here.
Sean Penn stars as
Robert De Nero Mickey Cohen, a ruthless mob boss determined to run Los Angeles as his own private empire. The film opens on him torturing one gangster, and ordering another to tell Chicago what happened. It’s almost as if director Ruben Fleischer is flicking two-fingers at Chicago-based The Untouchables. This film is going to be bigger, better, and down-right nastier he seems to say. And it’s a bold statement.
Josh Brolin is
Kevin Costner AND Sean Connery Sgt. John O’Mara, one of the few good cops in the city, and the man chosen by Nick Nolte’s police chief to bring down Cohen’s Empire. Luckily at this point the film does strike out on its own a little. As O’Mara puts his team together, and they embark on their mission, this does appear to be a slightly different gangster movie to those that have gone before. O’Mara’s Gangster Squad don’t carry badges, and they don’t make arrests. This is guerrilla warfare played out on the streets of LA. And it’s actually a lot of fun.
A major element that sets Gangster Squad apart from its predecessors is its use of humour. The film has very funny moments, which shouldn’t be a huge surprise considering Fleischer’s previous work (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less). The comic relief does help to break up some pretty brutal scenes of violence, and stops it being as unremittingly bleak as Lawless was last year. Sadly though, the plot is inevitably drawn back to its inspirations, and far too often I watched events on screen thinking “oh, that’s just like in The Untouchables”.
One thing The Untouchables didn’t have though is Ryan Gosling. Once you get past his character’s name (Jerry Wooters) he is everything that is good about this movie. He oozes charm, and has great comic timing. His transformation from laid-back, ‘looking after number one’ cop to avenging angel may be a little unbelievable plot-wise, but he sells the hell out of it up there. His love interest is played by the always delightful Emma Stone; who, like Gosling, is yet to put a foot wrong in her Hollywood career. The film genuinely lights up when these two are on screen.
Fleischer has made an enjoyable and stylish film. It may lack the gravitas and emotional punch of L.A. Confidential, and is a little too derivative of previous portrayals of this fascinating era at times, but there’s enough humour and great set-pieces to make it worthwhile.
Gangster Squad is released on 10 January.