Hollywood takes another crack at gangster flick

01:53, Jan 24 2013
Gangster squad

If there is one thing that gets on my nerves, it's film critics who act like everyone in the world has seen every film ever made.

You know the kind I mean; a film comes out and because it bears a passing resemblance to a movie already made certain hacks write it off for being too derivative. When the comedy When Harry Met Sally came out in 1989 some criticised it for being too much like Woody Allen films that came before it.

For the record: I enjoyed it far more than anything Allen has ever made.

Another example is The Untouchables. When the Brian De Palma-directed film starring Kevin Costner, Sean Connery, Andy Garcia and Robert De Niro was released in 1987, some critics were quick to point out that it was not the first gangster film ever made.

Talk about helpful.

Back then I hadn't seen a lot of gangster movies and as far as I was concerned The Untouchables was one of the greatest films ever made.


Fast forward to the present and Hollywood is having another crack at the old-fashioned mob flick; it's called Gangster Squad and it follows a similar recipe to The Untouchables'. Both concern police trying to take down a real life crim; in the earlier film it was Al Capone in New York in the 1930s and in the latter it is Mickey Cohen in Los Angeles in the 1940s.

Both feature acting legends in the villain roles, in 1987 it was De Niro and in 2013 it's Sean Penn.

Both films also feature the hottest leading men of their day with Costner playing Elliot Ness and 26 years later Ryan Gosling playing a cop by the name of Jerry Wooters.

Gangster Squad opens with LA under siege from Cohen's gang. Desperate times call for desperate measures so Josh Brolin's Sgt John O'Mara is asked to set up an off-the-books unit to wage war on the city's number one wise guy.

Blood gets spilled, thousands of bullets get fired, classic cars get wrecked and, yes, there is a romantic subplot.

Like The Untouchables, Gangster Squad boasts a wicked cast. Aside from the big names already mentioned, the line-up includes Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Nick Nolte and Emma Stone.

Everyone does their best with what is a hackneyed script although Stone is miscast as Cohen's moll.

As far as other negatives go, Gangster Squad is stuffed full of cliches and is as predictable as the Black Caps' next loss.

The positives include the fact it is a handsomely made film; no expense appears to have been spared on the sets, and the lighting and costumes are killer. The action is well choreographed and the fights look suitably bone breaking.

Be warned: it is very violent.

Of course, if you've seen The Untouchables or LA Confidential then you've seen it all before, but if you haven't, Gangster Squad might just be the greatest film you've ever seen.

As good looking as it is violent. ★★★1/2 (out of five)

Also screening: Life of Pi (PG) Simply stunning ★★★★★