Matt Forney
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Gangster Squad and Leftist Solipsism

gangster-squadNOTE: This article was originally published at The Right Stuff on January 17, 2013. I’m re-posting it here as I am no longer affiliated with the site.

The other day, I went to go see the new movie Gangster Squad with a friend. The movie’s ostensibly based on a true story—how a group of LAPD cops formed an extralegal squad to shut down the crime syndicate of Mickey Cohen in the late 40′s—but you’d never know it from actually watching it.

Gangster Squad is one of the fakest, phoniest movies I’ve ever seen.

It’s not just that most of the main characters were horribly miscast. Sean Penn was inexplicably picked to play Mickey Cohen; watching the little Jewish twerp try and play the part of a ruthless mob boss and ex-boxer is almost laughable. Emma Stone, who portrays Cohen’s lover Grace Faraday, looks like a little girl playing dress-up with her grandmother’s old clothes. Ryan Gosling is the most insulting of all; this fey pretty boy and feminist fap fantasy was cast as Jerry Wooters, one of the “Gangster Squad” troops. Every time he opened his mouth to speak in that typical Noo Yawk tough guy detective voice, I swore someone else was dubbing in his lines.

But it’s more than that. On a deeper level, Gangster Squad feels profoundly false.

The opening scene, in which Cohen brutally has a flunkie from a rival gang drawn and quartered with a pair of cars, sets the weird, off-kilter tone. We get to watch the poor bastard physically torn in half and his guts spill out onto the ground, like a Quentin Tarantino flick but without any of the slick irony that characterizes his films. Fifteen minutes in and the answer suddenly came to me.

Gangster Squad is essentially a modern movie masquerading as a period piece.

The big revelation was an early scene in which protagonist John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is bathed by his loving, pregnant wife after a case. While fretting over the danger O’Mara is constantly in, she muses about the reasons why she married him, which include him being a “demon in the sack,” a phrase no 1940′s housewife would ever use. That line single-handedly unraveled any atmosphere that the movie could have developed.

The falseness comes in part from the fact that the director and cinematographer went to great lengths to make Gangster Squad look period-accurate, or at least true to the film noirs of the 40′s and 50′s. Set design is immaculate, full of pretty colors and gorgeous vistas, something that Howard Hawks would come up with were he transplanted to the present and given an unlimited budget. Costume design is scarily accurate; Brolin and his soldiers march around in fedoras and nice gray suits, and Emma Stone looks sultry and mysterious with her scarlet gown and “fuck me” eyes.

Despite all this, Gangster Squad fails because the characters are irredeemably modern.

It’s modern in all the ways you’d expect. For example, two of the Gangster Squad members are sainted minorities; Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), a beat cop stuck patrolling the black part of town; and Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), a simpering, nerdy Mexican who serves as the “magical Latino” fill-in. O’Mara doesn’t select his squadmates himself, either: his wife does it for him! Who knew that Sam Spade and all those other hardboiled detectives were closeted kitchen bitches?

But it’s more than this. The characterizations, the motivations, the personalities of O’Mara et al. are radically out of place. Take an early scene in which Wooters meets and seduces Grace, despite being warned by his friend Jack Whalen (Sullivan Stapleton) that she’s Cohen’s girl and going after her could get the three of them killed. You’d think that’d be enough to give Wooters some pause, but it doesn’t; he shamelessly hits on Grace without regard to the fact that she’s the lover of the most powerful mobster in Los Angeles, and she goes home with him five minutes later without considering the consequences. This is how modern men/women, for whom sex is a meaningless act like farting or burping, would act.

This weak characterization extends to Mickey Cohen himself. Whether it’s solipsism or the director outright acknowledging that Sean Penn doesn’t have the gravitas to pull a role like this off, Cohen’s ruthlessness and barbarity aren’t displayed through his actions or words, but through lengthy, gory scenes in which he orders the executions of minions who fail him. In addition to the quartering scene that opens the movie, we’re also treated to a scene in which he has three underlings torched alive in an elevator. The lamest one is about midway through the film, when Cohen dispatches one of his thugs by having his brains skewered with a power drill; as the camera pans away behind a window and we watch the poor slob’s cerebrum splatter all over the glass, the film abruptly cuts to a close-up of a raw hamburger patty being tossed on a grill.

Ooooh, I see what you did there, movie… and it’s not clever, funny or even original.

Gangster Squad is basically film noir cosplay, actors dressing up immaculately for their parts but failing to understand how the characters are actually supposed to behave. This solipsistic inability to comprehend how people from the past thought or acted is a common thread in modern movies, TV shows, and art. I’d compare Gangster Squad to Mad Men in this regard, but Mad Men is at least redeemed by addressing legitimate social issues of the era, such as managerialism and the rise of materialism. There’s nothing of the sort in Gangster Squad, just a bunch of cardboard cutout characters and blood squibs, people getting killed with all the impact of a ten-year old mowing down bad guys in Call of Duty.

If I just wanted to watch mobsters getting Tommy gunned, I’d stay home and play L.A. Noire.

In their rejection of the past and of their heritage, leftists render themselves incapable of portraying the past in an honest or accurate way. Even when they don’t go out of their way to filter everything through a Marxist “white, heterosexual, Christian men are EVIL” lens, they can’t do anything more than transplant the mores and customs of 21st century America into the past. The best they can do is Gangster Squad, a film that triggers an uncanny valley effect due to its lack of verisimilitude.

Skip this one.

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