Speaking to N.Y. Times reporter Michael Cieply about Gangster Squad (Warner Bros., 1.11), director Ruben Fleischer‘s period melodrama (i.e., set in the late ’40s and early ’50s), producer Dan Lin says “if we do this right, it’s a contemporary gangster movie.”
The instant I read those ten words, I went “Jesus Christ, game over.”
Because I’m guessing that doing it “right,” in Lin’s view, means re-tailoring Harry Truman-era L.A. so it feels like a cool walk-through exhibit at Universal Citywalk. You know…synthetic slick, flash in the fucking pan, dumbing things down for the 21st Century primitives. It means re-styling, filling in the grooves and re-attitudinizing 20th Century Los Angeles so under-40s are in no way challenged, and so they can slide right into it.
I wrote last May that Gangster Squad is a kind of “get Mickey Cohen melodrama” in the vein of Brian De Palma‘s The Untouchables. But after that I speculated that Fleischer’s film will be a “make a lot of noise and look cool and sexy and studly while making a lot of noise and looking cool and sexy and studly” movie. Now I’m thinking it’s going to be that only a little dumber and more primitive. (I won’t see it until Tuesday evening, 1.8.)
Cieply says that the film contains “moral ambiguities ,” but Fleischer and company “have also tried for something new. Their Mickey Cohen is not the historical gangster who inflated his celebrity by displaying his pet’s doggy bed in Life magazine and ran a pathetic racket that involved raising money for a planned movie (never shot) about his own life.
“In Gangster Squad Cohen becomes mythic evil, a Batman villain. His victim is Los Angeles, a glamour doll of a metropolis that is being strangled, like Gotham City in The Dark Knight series. And it is saved, but also sullied, by tommy-gun-wielding cops,” blah blah.
How is this “something new”?
In other words, as Robert Downey, Jr.’s version of Sherlock Holmes is to the older, more traditional versions played by Basil Rathbone, Robert Stephens or Nicol Wiliamson, Gangster Squad is to The Untouchables, Public Enemies, L.A. Confidential and Mulholland Falls. A romp through a semblance of old times, but “rebooted with contemporary cool,” as Cieply puts it.