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Friday, January 11, 2013

From the start, Gangster Squad, directed by Ruben Fleischer, has been a project in the shadow of Brian De Palma's The Untouchables. The film finally arrives in theaters today, and critics left and right are comparing it to De Palma's film, with a couple even mentioning De Palma's Scarface in their reviews, as well as other gangster pictures. (In fact, Fleischer lists Scarface among his five favorite gangster films.) Here are some links to reviews, with quotes:

James Berardinelli, Reel Views
"There seems to be little doubt that Ruben Fleischer, the director behind the well-received Zombieland and the less well-received 30 Minutes or Less, is a Brian De Palma fan. How else to explain the kinship that exists between Fleischer's latest, Gangster Squad, and De Palma's classic The Untouchables (with a little Scarface thrown in for good measure)? The similarities go beyond the requisite plot points that exist in all gangland stories; Gangster Squad unspools almost like a remake of The Untouchables, albeit with a souped-up ending and a relocation from Prohibition Era Chicago to post-WWII Los Angeles. There's no Battleship Potemkin homage, but there is a nod to Sunset Blvd. Gangster Squad is an unashamedly pulpy thriller that borders at times on an exploitation flick but its determination to follow The Untouchables' template (without the benefit of a David Mamet script) makes it a little too predictable to be memorable.

"Steeped in blood, gore, and violence, Gangster Squad delivers what fans of the gangster genre expect from a movie of this sort. It's chock-full of 'guilty pleasure' moments. Sean Penn, playing real-life mobster Mickey Cohen, hams it up expertly, channeling Al Pacino's Tony Montana without the accent. The good guys are stolid, sturdy men - paragons of virtue up against a feral villain who is so vile that even the notorious Chicago mob can't stand against him. Despite the talent of the cast, Gangster Squad isn't a 'prestige' motion picture and its release date shift from September 7 to January 11 didn't damage its nonexistent Oscar chances. It's an inferior Untouchables knock-off and proud of it."

Nick de Semlyen, EMPIRE
"Is The Untouchables untouchable? Gangster Squad director Ruben Fleischer has set out to prove not. His slick, all-star film takes the same dynamic as Brian De Palma’s Chicago classic — law-enforcers go off the books to battle a gangster on his own dirty terms — and transplants it to LA, aiming for something bigger, glitzier, nastier. But while it’s not lacking in visual razzle-dazzle or blood, story-wise it rarely manages to shock or excite.

"Where it does succeed, though, is with its villain. In The Untouchables, De Niro’s paunchy Al Capone put a baseball bat to foul use, but Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen has even more lurid enthusiasms: dining on roast peacock, quoting Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, world-class swearing (he arrives at a raided brothel snarling, 'My whole crop of cunt is ruined.' Penn, wearing a prosthetic beak, has the time of his life. Behold as Cohen, in full view of the Hollywood sign, commands dogs to feast on a slain man’s innards. That’s the LA way...

"Gangster Squad is perfectly decent entertainment: it possesses a frequently witty script, a roster of likable, cool-looking stars, fizzy choreography and Sean Penn out-hamming Mr. Pricklepants. Yet there’s the lingering feeling that this is a safe studio film as opposed to a story that was burning to be told. Every beat is hit with mechanical efficiency, rather than taking risks and roaring with ambition. Not something you’d say about a Brian De Palma film."

Peter Debruge, Variety
"Opening with a scene in which Cohen chains a rival between two cars as a message to his Chicago bosses, this macho genre homage lands closer to The Untouchables than to L.A. Confidential as a self-aware gloss on old gangster pics...

"In the good guys' corner, there's Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick and Michael Pena (a refreshingly mixed-race bunch, despite the period). Opposite, there's Penn's larger-than-life performance as Cohen, a feat of unbridled entitlement. He fumes and storms like some kind of Cro-Magnon monster who just stumbled from the cave to claim what is rightfully his, feral intensity amplified to a pitch not to be dwarfed by Al Pacino's Tony Montana, Robert De Niro's Al Capone or Harvey Keitel's own spin on Cohen in Bugsy."

Marshall Fine, Hollywood & Fine
"Calling it 'derivative' implies someone else having done this kind of thing before – and done it better. Well, gee, where to start? If you were to call this a West Coast version of The Untouchables, you wouldn’t be far off the mark, right down to a machine-gun fight on a large public staircase.

Oh wait, that’s right: Brian De Palma was quoting yet another film, Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin with his shoot-out in Chicago’s Union Station. I won’t accuse Fleischer of mimicking De Palma, because it seems obvious. Young filmmakers have been sampling Scarface on a regular basis for almost 30 years."

Siobhan Synnot, The Scotsman
"There are plenty of shootouts, slashings and the occasional bloody amputation, but little variety or thought to the script. Whenever a kingpin appears to shrug off some major cock-up in his empire, surely any self-respecting henchman realises this is his cue to flee, or at least pack a bulletproof vest? Not if you are a henchman in Gangster Squad. And while Penn attempts to bully his way through the film, his Cohen has none of internal subtleties of, say, Robert De Niro in The Untouchables."

Bill Goodykoontz, AZ Central
"The film is somewhat similar in structure and temperament to The Untouchables, Brian De Palma’s far superior 1987 film about Eliot Ness going after Al Capone. The head-on approach can only work for so long, so other methods must be found. As with De Palma’s film, despite being the good guys, O’Mara and his men must resort to unsavory, extra-legal means to level the playing field.

"There is a really good story in here somewhere. Cohen is a fascinating figure, operating in an interesting time. Here he’s a cardboard cutout, prone to hilarious bouts of rage (and bouts, period; he was a boxer). Think of any gangster cliché you’ve seen or heard, and Penn delivers. He is nothing if not thorough. Usually that’s a good thing. Here, not so much."

Chris Tilly, IGN
"Another film in whose shadow Gangster Squad will undoubtedly exist is The Untouchables, for while that film is set in a different city some 20 years earlier, their storylines are remarkably similar. Yet Brian De Palma’s Oscar-winner trumps Fleischer’s effort on pretty much every front, managing to entertain and excite while at the same time making the agents who eventually brought down Al Capone three-dimensional characters."

Nick Pinkerton, OC Weekly
"It's obvious, however, that [screenwriter Will] Beall is mostly drawing on his experience with other movies, particularly the previous generation of revisionist period crime dramas, such as Brian De Palma's 1987 The Untouchables, which Gangster Squad's plot hews close to, and Curtis Hanson's 1997 L.A. Confidential. Unlike Hanson's film, which had a shoe-leather realism, Gangster Squad looks as if all its details—each shiny Packard and bottle of Orange Nehi—have been scrupulously 'placed,' still warm from the art department, while panoramic shots recall no terrestrial city so much as the virtual environments of Rockstar Games' LA Noire."

Alonso Duraldi, The Wrap
"With its gleaming roadsters, sexy dames and swanky nightspots, Gangster Squad is clearly meant to summon fond memories of post-WWII-era noir films, not to mention more recent retro valentines like Chinatown and L.A. Confidential. But you’ll be forgiven for thinking that you’re watching The Untouchables II.

"Like David Mamet and Brian De Palma’s reboot of the classic crimebuster TV show, this new movie offers a stalwart cop with a devoted, red-headed wife, putting together a crew of renegade cops (including an old-timer and a bespectacled nerd) to take down a powerful and sadistic mobster played by a Method-fueled scenery chewer."

Dann Gire, Daily Herald
"I liked the Chicago version of Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad much better. It was titled The Untouchables.

"Will Bealls' screenplay to Gangster Squad, based on the book by Paul Lieberman, appears to have appropriated the American western conventions in Brian De Palma's 1987 Chicago-shot thriller, right down to the good guys' lovable, nerdy mascot purchasing the farm to cement our emotional opposition to the villains.

"It's all about a straight-shooting law man and dedicated family guy assembling a crack team of peace officers to wage a street war against a ruthlessly murderous, megalomaniac, big-city mob boss with most of the government in his back pocket.

"Gangster Squad throws in an extra romantic subplot and a climatic bare-knuckles boxing match, but nonetheless prompts comparisons to The Untouchables, right down to Sean Penn's recreation of mob boss Mickey Cohen as the raging Al Capone of L.A.

"Fleischer's Gangster Squad sidesteps the Chicago mythology of The Untouchables and the gritty realism of L.A. Confidential, preferring a sensationalistic, almost graphic novel approach, one exploding with flashy visuals peppered with blood-red lipstick, monochromatic nocturnal cityscapes, smartly tailored suits and blazing guns."

M. Faust, ArtVoice
"Not much beyond the title remains for this movie, which essentially reprises Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables for a Boardwalk Empire audience. Instead of Al Capone, the bad guy is Mickey Cohen, played ferociously by Sean Penn in a performance that you wish were in a better movie: The real Cohen was a lot more interesting than this one-note hoodlum. Josh Brolin has the Kevin Costner part (by way of Boardwalk’s Michael Shannon) of Sergeant John O’Mara, the straight arrow enlisted to assemble a band to work on the outer edges of the law.

"You can play this game all day if you want: Nerdly Charles Martin Smith is played by Giovanni Ribisi, ethnic outsider Andy Garcia by Michael Pena, etc. There’s even a moment of rage by Cohen, vowing vengeance on O’Mara, that is so similar to Capone’s rant in the De Palma movie ('I want him dead! I want his family dead!') that it has to be intentional.

"Gangster Squad gets high marks for its production design, recreating post-war LA as a riot of art deco glitz. It’s a great movie to look at, but blandly directed and photographed."

Cornish Guardian, This Is Cornwall
"Disappointingly, Fleischer's film lacks the finely detailed characters and dramatic tension of Brian De Palma's Prohibition-era drama."

Jeremy Kirk, First Showing
"The inevitable 'I want them all dead' tirade Penn's Cohen goes on is nothing as powerful or as memorable as Robert De Niro as Al Capone vowing vengeance against Kevin Costner's Elliott Ness, and the moments of violence against the Gangster Squad would be riveting if they weren't so familiar. By the time the film turns towards a shoot-out around an elaborate staircase and hotel lobby, you can't help but think it would be just as easy and a whole lot more fun to watch Brian De Palma's film and be done with it."

Mark Naglazas, The West Australian
"Gangster Squad was pulled after the cinema shooting in Aurora, Colorado, during a showing of The Dark Knight Rises and its climax, which originally took place in a movie theatre, reshot so that it now resembles the ending of Brian de Palma's Scarface."

There are plenty more reviews-- I'll post more links tomorrow.

Posted by Geoff at 6:02 PM CST
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