Sunday, 13 January 2013

Review: Gangster Squad

Rating: 15
Duration: 113 mins

The aftermath of mass media panic halted Ruben Fleischer's third feature from a September 2012 release, after succumbing to moral obligation to remove a cinema shooting, and reschedule for an early 2013 one. In truth, the omission of this infamous scene isn't missed or seemingly required in the context of the film in its newer cut, but all this would be more significant if the film in question was actually worth the wait.

The American director's previous film, 30 Minutes or Less, is nothing to write home about, instead relying on his debut, Zombieland, in which to showcase his talents. Attaining a solid cast including Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin, as well as the framework from the existing Paul Lieberman novel, are solid foundations, but instead of creating something to rival the likes of L.A. Confidential, it ends up falling short of the decidedly average Mulholland Falls

With little positives to speak of other than a mild sense of entertainment value in a handful of moments, they're largely nullified by the noticeable errors of its ways. Its biggest detriment is credibility, and the 1949 world Gangster Squad bases itself in looks anything but. Whereas L.A. Confidential oozed an authentic 50s crime noir aesthetic, this couldn't be more contrasting; saturated colours; clean, neatly costumed characters; a cliché-riddled script; and painfully staged settings are more akin to Bugsy Malone as opposed to anything intended to be taken seriously. 

This comparison to a preteen crime flick is accentuated by its performances, too. Whether it be Sean Penn's ham-fisted depiction of tyrant Mickey Cohen or Ryan Gosling's Truman Capote impersonation, the entire ensemble appear to have been reading different scripts because there's a complete lack of understanding and enthusiasm across the board, especially from squad leader Brolin. Importantly, the requirement of chemistry -- specifically during the romance subplot concerning Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone -- is essential, but proves non-existent. Any hint of eroticism or sexual tension is swiftly extinguished, much like the validity of the film itself.

Rather than explore interesting or complex sub plotting, Gangster Squad is the naive, overzealous and all too often embarrassing younger sibling to The Untouchables; one tries not to compare the two, but is forced by mere association. Not once does it threaten with intelligence or offer thought provoking insight, instead opting for tepid entertainment (and by that, this simply involves copious amounts of gun fire and loud noises). It's pretty one-dimensional in terms of telling a bare bones story pursuing Cohen, and at least, in this respect, it sticks to a leveled playing field of providing action sequences and entertainment in a most basic form. However, this simply won't be enough for anyone who wishes to enter with their brain engaged: there isn't anything resembling sophistication other than a group of rogue officers spraying as many bullets as possible at any given target.

Gangster Squad fails to meet even a satisfying degree of fulfilment; it's devoid of depth with its no-frills plot, favouring clumsy recreation rather than the effective crafting of an authentic period movie. The acting, again, bases its mannerisms, dialogue and delivery on mid-20th Century movie stereotypes, which feels clunky and wholly unflattering for those involved. 

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Review: The Impossible

Rating: 12a
Duration: 114 mins
Regardless of the praise or controversy surrounding the latest real-life tragedy depicted on the big screen, The Impossible is undoubtedly token Oscar fodder, but less crass in comparison to last year's inclusion of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, that's for sure.

Even though Spanish director Juan Antonio Bayona bases the true story on the account of a Spanish family, it is adapted for English-speaking audiences with the recognisible faces of Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. What's clear is the hugely contrived setup for the impending tsunami disaster that struck on Boxing Day 2004, and even though it is a necessity to construct an idyllic family holiday before the inevitable horror, it does so in heavy-handed fashion. Whist some have focused critically on the Anglicisation, it shouldn't have dominant relevance when exploring the issues and context of these characters presented within this particular story. 

Obligatory exposition out the way, the initial impact of the tsunami is nothing other than devastating. It is scenes such as these that are tackled in a way that balances the sheer horror and deft poignancy to commendable effect. The CGI feels large-scale enough for impact, yet subtle enough for believability, which is one of the film's strongest claims.

However, aside from the emotion generated and horror visualised, particular plot points (in the latter scenes especially) feel terribly staged for an audience pay off. Coincidence dominates the conclusion offering an outcome of hope and resolve rather than a more realistic acceptance and inevitability of reality in the wake of such a catastrophe. It's obviously to be expected for a) a Hollywood disaster movie, and b) as something that strives to appeal to the Academy.

Performances peak with Watts, who demands more screen time than her male counterpart and perhaps warrants her Oscar nod. McGregor, however -- aside from one particularly devastating scene -- offers a consistent if not outstanding turn. The couple's children, specifically Lucas (Tom Holland), perform well considering a lack of experience. Unfortunately, it is the inconsequential characters that make up the swampy mainland that deliver wooden, awkward lines of dialogue that threatens to remove audiences from the very real, engrossing dangers of the environment they've invested in.

The Impossible possesses a clear intention to appeal to human nature, relying on a handful of tremendously poignant moments to affect, overwhelm and completely engage its audience. However, in a film that, for one reason or another, decides to alter factual certainties for entertainment, audiences will still willingly succumb to the emotional blackmail on offer in the form of this effective but contrived melodrama.