Direction: Ruben Fleischer
Actors: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling
He made a couple of quirky genre comedies (Zombieland, 2009; 30 Minutes Or Less, 2011) before shifting gears to craft this grandly stylistic crime thriller. With just three feature films to his credit, Ruben Fleisher has established a reputation as one of the distinctive directors in recent American cinema.
A sock-’em-shoot-’em study of cops, crooks and corruption in post-war Los Angeles, Gangster Squad overflows with high energy, dazzling camera acrobatics and operatic violence.
Loosely based on a non-fiction book which chronicles the rise and fall of a real-life mobster, the movie barely stops to catch its breath. There’s more than a nod to such vintage gangland dramas as The Untouchables (1987) and L.A. Confidential (1997). The vice-versus-virtue territory may have been extensively travelled, but Fleisher brings a welcome breath of fresh air, elevating the familiar material to new and superlatively entertaining levels.
The year is 1949; the place, the City of Angels. A former boxer turned thug (portrayed with over-the-top abandon by Sean Penn) has accumulated a fortune from drugs, prostitution and gambling. The kingpin, who has policemen, judges and politicians on his payroll, is intent on making it to the top of the dung-heap by cornering criminal activities on the entire west coast. Enter a quintet of maverick, tough-as-nails cops.
Led by a straitlaced sergeant (Brolin), the covert crew of crime-stoppers is determined to bring the mafia boss to justice never mind if it means adopting the cold-blooded measures of the enemy. There’s a crowd-pleasing mix of charismatic characters (none more so than the coolly confident Ryan Gosling), frenetic derring-do and wisecracking dialogue. Snazzily shot by the Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe, the bursts of bloodletting are often picturised in eyeball-caressing slow-motion. Special mention, too, must be made of the film’s polished period production design.
The impeccable supporting cast includes Emma Stone as the mobster’s moll. She shares tangible screen chemistry with Ryan Gosling, her dirty-dancing co-star from the recent Crazy, Stupid, Love. Incidentally, a scene featuring a gangland massacre in a movie theatre had to be excised following the eerily similar real-life killings in a Colorado multiplex last July. A new Tommy guns blazing ambush on the streets of Chinatown was added. Sleek, smart and swift, Gangster Squad is most certainly worth watching.