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Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad is a fairly derivative take on Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables: in this 2013 film 1940s Los Angeles takes the place of 1920s Chicago, and there are similarities between the two stories, both based on real life events, both involving honest cops tasked with taking down a well-connected and ruthless mobster with the help of a team of spirited misfits. I suppose one can hardly blame the younger, more inexperienced director for sticking rigidly to the same formula successfully employed by de Palma in the 1980s, but sadly, in almost every area in which the two films can be compared, Fleischer’s effort comes off as second best. To begin with, Sean Penn’s one-note crime boss Mickey Cohen is as boring as villains come, and the actor struggles to make anything like the same kind of impact that Robert de Niro delivered with his over-the-top and hugely enjoyable turn as Al Capone, though Cohen does at least exhibit some of Capone’s flair for inventing elaborate or unusual deaths for his underworld enemies. Josh Brolin, meanwhile, is this film’s noble Eliot Ness-alike, John O’Mara; a family man looking to do good, he narrows his eyes and stares off into the middle distance a lot while considering all the moral implications thrown up by his work, which involves disrupting Cohen’s empire by any means necessary. The team of incorruptibles working under O’Mara (played by Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick and Michael Peña) have been given precisely one skill or personality trait each, and they wander round dutifully in the shadow of their leader, each waiting to step out into the limelight for his own brief heroic moment. Gosling’s the only supporting actor who gets an ample amount of screen time, but he’s unwilling to break out of his quiet, cool enigma thing here, and as a result you know as much about his character at the end of the film as you do when he first appears.

Will Beall’s script, meanwhile, is full of clichéd, self-important cop phrases about ‘the honour of men who carry the badge’ and the like, and it contains a dispiriting emphasis on male barking and growling; at one point Brolin sets out the stakes by gruffly telling his men ‘you lose everything and you win the war – you’re a hero. You lose everything and you lose the war – you’re just a fool’ and, rather weirdly, no-one either laughs in his face or calls him a preposterous, overblown c*** afterwards. In fact there is a huge amount of macho, guttural man rumbling in this film. Both Brolin and Penn sound as if they’ve been getting through three packs of Marlboros before their daily morning muesli and yoga sessions, though they are like high-pitched choirboys next to the mighty Nick Nolte, who appears here in a supporting role as a man who has apparently lived a thousand lives with just the one set of vocal chords. Still, despite a lack of originality and all of the assembled masculine posturing Gangster Squad isn’t dreadful, and there’s some impressive noirish production design and costume design to enjoy. Unfortunately there are several dull patches, and Fleischer seemingly can’t break free of them; the action here – which ought to lift the film and make it more entertaining – lacks the flair and imagination that made the set pieces in De Palma’s earlier film so watchable and so enjoyable. Poor old Emma Stone tries to make the best of one of the film’s two token and completely under-written female roles (she’s Cohen’s squeeze, later shacking up with Gosling’s charmer Jerry Wooters), but the director seems to give up on her after a while to concentrate on the throaty man growls. These continue all the way through the film and into its risible epilogue, in which there’s even more self-important talk of honour and cops and cop honour and honourable cops and the honour of cops and how cops are honourable. Meh.

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer.
Written by: Matt Sazama, Burk Sharpless.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton.
Cinematography: Dion Beebe.
Editing: Alan Baumgarten, James Herbert.
Music:
Steve Jablonsky.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
113 minutes.
Year:
2013.

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The Gunman is a thriller that’s severely lacking in lustre: it’s no surprise that it flopped earlier this year, and the poor reviews it received at the time of its release seem entirely justified. Pierre Morel’s film has plenty of star power, at least, and it looks like Sean Penn’s trying to muscle in on Liam Neeson’s generous share of the old man action flick market, as he spends much of the running time being Really Good At Killing People (which is handy, because he doesn’t really do much else) in a Neeson-esque fashion. His character, the bizarrely-named Jim Terrier (to which I say: ‘why not go for “Rick Poodle” and give us all a much-needed laugh?’), is an ex-special forces mercenary lone wolf black-ops agent who doesn’t do what he’s told and squints a lot and is regularly topless and smokes cigarettes like a maaaan and has a code that he sticks to and has a load of passports stashed away and blah de blah de blah de blah. We first meet him in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where he is supposedly providing security to a mining company, though in fact he’s a member of a hit squad that has been paid to assassinate the country’s Minister for Mining, who wants to renegotiate all the unfair contracts his country has made with visiting corporations. Despite the fact tough-guy Terrier has clearly done this kind of thing day-in, day-out for years, this latest cold-blooded murder sends him into a bad place, bizarrely triggering a debilitating cognitive disease as well as a huge crisis of conscience: when we next see him, eight years later, he’s back in the country doing penance as a charity worker with an NGO, building wells for small communities. (At least Jim Terrier has more time for the African country and its people than director Morel and the film’s three writers, of which Penn is one: the political situation in the DCR is conveyed via the hackneyed technique of brief, simplified news reports, while only one African character gets a name, a line and something to do.)

The action moves to Europe, and mainly to Spain. Terrier has a nemesis, of sorts, in the shape of Javier Bardem’s odious, one-dimensional Felix, who is introduced after one minute with the kind of rumbling bass note on the soundtrack that leaves you in no doubt as to his duplicitous and evil nature. Felix a fully-paid up member of the Society of Professional Arseholes marries Terrier’s girlfriend Annie (Jamine Trinca) after the assassination, when Jim goes into hiding, but the three are re-united in Barcelona. Here Bardem chews his way through so much scenery I doubt there’s much of the city left for anyone to visit, the highlight being the most unrealistic portrayal of a drunk man I’ve seen for some time. Anyway: someone is out to get Terrier for his part in the earlier murder, for some reason or other, and it could be Felix, or it could be Mark Rylance’s ex-special forces black ops lone wolf mercenary, or it could be Ray Winstone’s cockney geezer stereotype, or it could be Idris Elba’s Interpol agent, who is the kind of spook that mysteriously appears out of nowhere, says something vaguely cool or cryptic, and departs after leaving a card with his name and number on it so that he can conveniently return to the film at a later, crucial point. Yeesh. The male supporting actors here are really poor, the film’s three Terrier vs Henchmen battles in three different locations appear back-to-back, while the script is often laughably bad. At one point Penn’s character actually says the words ‘I was video-documenting on my cellphone earlier like a goddamn wazoo’. Well, I’m sick of text-documenting on my computer like a goddamn wazoo, and refuse to  spend any more time and effort discussing a movie that is every bit as tired and uninspired as its title.

Directed by: Pierre Morel.
Written by: Don Macpherson, Pete Travis, Sean Penn. Based on The Prone Gunman by Jean-Patrick Manchette.
Starring: Sean Penn, Jasmine Trinca, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Ray Winstone, Idris Elba.
Cinematography: Flavio Martinez-Labiano.
Editing: Frédéric Thoraval.
Music:
Marco Beltrami.
Certificate:
15.
Running Time:
115 minutes.
Year:
2015.

8 Comments