Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Cinematic Anticipation - 'The Gangster Squad'

The Gangster Squad is probably one of the smaller films on the Constellation of Cinematic Anticipation, but with a $70 million budget and a cast that includes Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, it could hardly be labelled small. Yes, it's a mobster pic set in 1940's Los Angeles, but somehow I think this one will be different. It is sometimes difficult to explain why a particular movie stands out long in advance of its release (October next year only in this case), and this is precisely one of those situations. Hit the jump to see why I am so excited and what we can expect to see come October 2012.

Let me begin with a qualification (that's what lawyers do) - of course, the cast of The Gangster Squad alone provides enough reasons to get excited for the film. However, keep in mind that we are talking about the Constellation of Cinematic Anticipation here - essentially, about 11 films that are at the top of my most anticipated list over the next 2 years! That is few movies, a long time and I get excited easily.

With that out of the way, here be the synopsis:

Los Angeles, 1949. Ruthless, Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) runs the show in this town, reaping the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes and-if he has his way-every wire bet placed west of Chicago. And he does it all with the protection of not only his own paid goons, but also the police and the politicians who are under his control. It's enough to intimidate even the bravest, street-hardened cop...except, perhaps, for the small, secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohen's world apart.

Ah, a good old fashioned gangster flick. New York mobster types infiltrate LA, and a special team is put together to tear their world apart. Add to that the following info, and we have some serious potential.

Ruben Fleischer, the director of Zombieland, is at the helm. I loved absolutely everything about Zombieland. Fleischer worked miracles for the Zombie movie, and lets hope he can do the same for the Gangster pic. Indeed, it does seem like the production is aiming for an edgier vision of the 1950's gangland LA that has been the setting of so many iconic Hollywood films. Producer Dan Lin recently spoke to the LA Times and drew comparisons between The Gangster Squad and the new Sherlock Holmes movies, saying that "we got a great cast, brought in a contemporary filmmaker and made a story people had felt was dusty and dated feel relevant to today's audience." Okay, but Sherlock Holmes was not fantastic, and I am hoping for more from The Gangster Squad. Here are three reasons why I don't think we need to worry too much:

1. Directing: Ruben Fleischer now is Guy Ritchie when he was making movies like Lock, Stock & Two Smoking Barrels and Snatch: a true contemporary filmmaker. After those two films, Guy Ritchie got married to Madonna and has never been quite the same. He has been trying his old tricks with all his films since Snatch, and even though he is slowly recovering (since he divorced Madge), he has not reached those same heights. Ruben Fleischer, on the other hand, was never married to Madonna.

2. Acting: The cast of The Gangster Squad is even better than Sherlock Holmes. It's hard to beat the Robert Downey Jr / Jude Law combination, but with The Gangster Squad you have Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone supported by Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and more. Now that is a cast!

3. Story: Not only are 1950's LA Gangsters cooler than 19th century English detectives, but story is likely to be better as well. The Gangster Squad is based on a series of articles by Paul Lieberman entitled "Tales from the Gangster Squad", and was written by Will Beall, a neophyte screenwriter who spent a decade as a member of the LAPD (mostly in South Central LA). Sherlock Holmes, on the other hand, had 3 writers: one newbie, and two with less than sterling credentials. I saw films like Invictus and xXx: State of the Union in there, and looked no further.

Filming on The Gangster Squad began on 6 September 2011, and is set to continue for 68 days ending in mid December. It's being shot entirely in and around LA, and from the looks of things the crew is doing a great job. Check out the pic below of Mickey Cohen's nightclub Slapsie Maxie's, constructed in and around an abandoned grocery store. With Fleischer's visual flair, and $70 million to spend, I think this film is going to be a visual feast. That reminds me of another reason why the "modernisation" of gangland LA will work better than 19th century England: it is much easier to reconstruct something so recent, and in LA, much of the visual style is so well remembered. Victorian England demands massive effort just to recreate, let alone reinvent. The end result is what we in so many movies: crowdy, dirty and cardboard-boxy. In essence, a re-hashing of something done previously, and audiences are seldom impressed.

This abandoned grocery store has been converted into an iconic 1950's nightclub. Photo: Wilson Webb.
The only disappointment so far from the production is that Bryan Cranston had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts. He would have perfected an already near-perfect cast. His replacement was Robert Patrick, who is pretty damn good too.

And that's about that. As I get further into the Constellation of Cinematic Anticipation, the posts get quicker and easier to write because the films get further and further away. However, I have posted the "map" below again, and you can see that there are some biggies to come. Lastly, see even further below some great pics from the set of The Gangster Squad. Gosling and Stone look awesome together as always, and it looks like Penn and Brolin are going at each other proper!

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