This Week's Films: Gangster Squad and Chinatown

This week sees the re-release of great neo-noir film Chinatown, as well as a new release set in the same town in the time...
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This week sees the re-release of great neo-noir film Chinatown, as well as a new release set in the same town in the time...

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The title, Gangster Squad, didn’t fill me with the greatest anticipation. But on seeing the cast - who include Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Robert Pena - I was intrigued. To add, the story is loosely based on Paul Lieberman’s book, Gangster Squad. Covert Cops The Mob and The Battle for Los Angeles, based on a real life unit set up in 1946 by police chief William Parker to harass  the psychopathic former prize fighter, LA mob Kingpin-, Mickey Cohen. A sucker for the period,I was in like Flynn. But basically, director Ruben Fleischer has rolled out the classic, Seven Samurai, Magnificent Seven, Dirty Dozen, Untouchables blueprint. Tough no nonsense, honest, hard man cop, John O ‘Hara (Brolin) a  WW2  special forces guerrilla fighter, is  asked to put together a gang of rogue cops to rout the despicable thugs  who are peddling smack and turning young girls into hookers.

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They are  led by Cohen (Penn) whose hit man/bodyguard is Johnny Stomp - real life hoodlum, Johnny Stompanato who was A list actress Lana Turner’s boyfriend until her daughter killed him in 1958. And of course it’s all a bit silly, takes the usual liberties with the truth and has received predominantly bad notices. But I won’t be so tough. It is what it is : an old fashioned shoot ‘em up, Boys Own comic strip of a picture with a mediocre script, caricature good guys and bad guys filled with lots of  ultra violence, an acceptable car chase and good shirts. Never an Oscar contender but that’s not always what’s required.

Re-released is another film set at the very same time in the very same city that, also featuring the odd gangster, was nominated for 10 Oscars. Unfairly came away with just one. A complex chunk of neo noir Chinatown (1974) was director Roman Polanski’s last film in the US and some say his best ever until The Pianist (2002). A masterpiece by anybody’s measure, it was scripted by the great Robert Towne, produced by Robert Evans, shot by John Alonzo and stars the inimitable Jack Nicholson as Private Dick, Jake Gittes , Faye Dunaway as Evelyn Mulwray and the superlative noir director, John Huston, as the evil and incestuous, Noah Cross. Named the best film ever made, they don’t get much better than this.

Gangster Squad is in cinemas nationwide, Chinatown is at the NFT and selected cinemas.