Zero Dark Thirty & Gangster Squad - A Review from Jason Everett

January 15, 2013 -

Brett Blackman

The first disappointment of 2013 is awarded to Gangster Squad. Although by no means an awful film, a lot was put on screen that displayed a capacity for so much more, than the middling feature we were given. As anyone who read part I of my 14 for 2013 could tell you, I was really looking forward to this one.

Josh Brolin plays Sgt. John O’Mara, a cop and WWII vet, who has not psychologically left the battlefield, tasked by the Chief of Police (Nick Nolte) to take down big-time gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, who looks like he’s having fun with the role). We know Cohen’s evil because we watch him split a guy in half with two cars in the opening sequence, and watch as throughout the movie he kills about half the guys who work for him, and a few who don’t. In the process of taking him down, O’Mara recruits a squad (the Gangster Squad of the title) which includes most notably Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), and…well there in lies the problem. The film focuses really on the two of them, and a little bit on another cop, Keller, played by Giovanni Ribisi. There are plenty of good actors to fill the roles of the rest of the squad (Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, and Robert Patrick), but I’m not even sure we are told the names of one or two of them. The film would have benefited from narrowing down its cast, to four squad members, and giving us time with each.

Gosling is loads of fun to watch, but even he’s not given enough screen time, especially with Emma Stone, the gangster moll he charms, away from Mickey Cohen. Stone is a wonderful (and of course beautiful actress) but she’s never given enough time to flesh out what could have been an excellent role. The real shortcoming though is the dialogue, which despite the occasional good lines has many clunkers (any interaction between O’Mara and his wife) and a rather annoying voiceover, from Brolin (who is fun to watch on the screen)

The film looks great, and the art team deserves credit, but Fleischer never takes advantage of that, and instead implements modern techniques that seem out of place, in this sleek old-timey tale. Slow motion is nice, but you have to use it right, and not let the style dictate the scene, but let it compliment the style.

The film’s also not all that memorable, and has no scenes that standout to make it unique in any way. It’s best moments are lifted from superior earlier neo-noirs such as LA Confidential, The Untouchables (see Slow-Motion being used well), Chinatown, and, strangely enough, Lethal Weapon (there’s a scene at the end that gave me déjà vu, and thought I glimpsed a mulleted Mel Gibson punching and kicking). Even the opening action scene, seems as though it were awkwardly lifted from one of the recent Christopher Nolan Batman film’s, and given a 1949-Los Angeles setting. Finally, a pet peeve I had with the film, was a seemingly major continuity error during the film’s climax, that’s soul purpose is to give the spotlight to Brolin and Gosling, which isn’t a bad thing if you didn’t have a cast of other great actors stuck outside seemingly twiddling their thumbs till the aforementioned (but spoilery) continuity error kicks in.

Despite the film’s shortcomings, it’s still a decent watch if you catch it On-Demand the next time you find yourself feeling like a Saturday night in pajamas and in front of the TV, you won’t regret it but you probably won’t remember it either.

It’s a testament to director Kathryn Bigelow’s filmmaking skills that Zero Dark Thirty, stands as an amazing film with characters that we can root for, without knowing very much about them at all.

Bigelow’s first film since, her Oscar winning feature The Hurt Locker, tackles a similar subject, in a similar manner (the structure of the film is episodic) but creating an almost entirely different, and even more amazing, film.

The film follows, a young CIA analyst Maya (an excellent Jessica Chastain), as she and other members of the CIA spend ten years searching for one of history’s most notorious villains, Osama bin Laden. Spoilers, for anyone who has not picked up a newspaper in the last few years, but they get him in the end. The sequence at the Abbotbad complex where he was hiding, which was discovered based on a hunch of the person Maya is based on, is breathtakingly intense, keeping you on the edge of your seat, even though you know the ending.

Chastain’s joined by other talented cast members, including Jason Clarke, as Dan, a CIA interrogator, whose techniques are brutal, but his demeanor sweet and intellectual. However, we never learn too much about Maya or Dan or any of the characters. We are left guessing about most facts from their love lives, to their political opinions.

The film has torture scenes, it’s not a political debate or a film about not. The film depicts events and does not burden her scenes with political commentary, which frankly has become a bore to sit through over the last few years (Spielberg’s Lincoln being an exception).

Zero Dark Thirty, is an heat pounding, film, that though long, is worth every minute of its runtime. (INSERT TIME PUN OF CHOICE HERE).

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