Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Gangster Squad

Review by James Colt Harrison

Warner Bros. new release of Gangster Squad  brings back memories of the golden days when the studio excelled in glorifying criminals. Actors such as James Cagney (1899-1986) and Edward G. Robinson (1893-1973) became stars by glamorizing hoodlums and killers in such hit films as Public Enemy, G-Men, and Bullets for Ballots. Cagney and Robinson were joined on the Warner roster later by Humphrey Bogart in Petrified Forest and High Sierra. So, the Burbank lot became known for producing it’s rapid-talking, tough-guy swaggering stars who appeared in stories ripped out of the headlines.

With that in mind, Oscar® winner Sean Penn (Mystic River ) has taken on the role of mobster Mickey Cohen in director Ruben Fleischer’s look at Los Angeles crime in the late forties and early fifties. With some light prosthetics designed by the Tinsely Studio and Mr. Penn’s personal make-up artist, Gerald Quist, the actor was turned into a fairly accurate replica of Mickey Cohen’s bulldog-like face. Add in a snarl, and you have the perfect Hollywood gangster.

When mobster Cohen decided he was going to “take over Los Angeles” in 1949, it alarmed the police department. The LAPD was trying to keep crime down to a minimum. A group of six police detectives (Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, and Robert Patrick were led by Josh Brolin) protected the law by breaking it. They used their own persuasive methods that were not exactly sanctioned by Police Chief William Parker (Nick Nolte). But Parker gave them Carte Blanche to cleanup the city and rid it of Cohen and his henchmen. The film presents plenty of action for fans of murder and mayhem. Car chases, shoot-outs, and bone crunching galore populate many exciting scenes. There is no lack of exhilarating, testosterone pumping incidents spread throughout the film.

Sean Penn grabs onto his role as the famed mobster Cohen and  chews the scenery up one side of the proscenium and down the other. He’s fascinating to watch, like a mongoose and a cobra. You cant take your eyes off of him when he’s on-screen. He certainly personifies a “movie-star,” and he is a terrific actor who commands your attention. I pity any other actor who has to appear in a scene with him. But no matter---Penn usually dispatches them in minutes either by shooting them, breaking their legs, or having them ripped in two in a barbaric re-enactment of the old two horses and chains routine. Only this time Cohen uses two Cadillacs to pull the hapless miscreant apart. Charming.

The film is shot with a great atmospheric look by Cinematographer Dion Beebe, capturing the styles and feeling of the forties and early fifties. Production Designer Maher Ahmad and Set Decorator Gene Serdena reproduced the period by cleverly using neon tube lighting, wartime moderne architecture, and those wonderful, beautiful classic cars that filled the streets. Authenticity was accurate in the use of appropriate automobiles for the times. The screenplay was written by Will Beall, adapted from the book “Tales From the Gangster Squad” by Paul Lieberman.

Mobster and Mafia pictures may not be for everybody, but Gangster Squad will certainly entertain you if you choose to spend an evening at the movies.



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