Gangster Land


This is how you vogue, gangster-style.

(2017) Gangster (Cinedigm) Sean Faris, Milo Gibson, Jason Patric, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Peter Facinelli, Mark Rolston, Michael Paré Sean Kanan, Al Sapienza, Don Harvey, Jason Brooks, Veronica Parks, Mark Krenik, Ronnie Kerr, Ryan Kiser, Danny Hansen, Joe Coffey, Shane P. Allen, Louis Fasanaro, Devin Reeve, Drake Andrew, James Bartz, Alan Donnes, Jody Barton, Kevin Donovan, Grace Fae. Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr

 

We Americans have always had a fascination with criminals. We have tended to idolize them and mythologize them, from Jesse James on down to Charlie Manson. We have a particular fondness for the gangsters of the Depression era; even though they were vicious, brutal men we can only help admire their brazen outlook as they lived life on their own terms – and often died by them.

This film is a fictionalized account of the rise of Al Capone (Gibson) as seen through the eyes of his top lieutenant “Machine Gun” Jack McGurn (Faris) who despite his name was actually of Italian descent; he changed it when he went into boxing because he could get more bouts as an Irishman than he could as an Italian. After the murder of his stepfather by a rival Italian gang, he decides to throw his lot in with Capone who had seen McGurn box and was an admirer.

At first McGurn is just hired muscle for the Italian gang under Johnny Torrio (Sapienza) but he rises through the ranks with his friend Al and when Torrio is killed, Capone takes control and begins a ruthless war with the Irish gang of the Northside for control of Chicago. The Northside Irish gang is led by Dion O’Bannon (Rolston) and after O’Bannon is murdered, George “Bugs” Moran (Facinelli). He meets and falls in love with dancer Lulu Rolfe (Sigler) who is unimpressed at first – McGurn doesn’t have much cash and never thought much about dressing stylishly. However he wins her over and she is okay with his lifestyle as a mobster. Now known as “Machine Gun Jack” for his preferred weapon for murder, the war between the two vicious gangs quickly and decisively escalates culminating in an infamous massacre on St. Valentine’s Day that will change Chicago forever.

There is a B-movie gangster vibe here that recalls some of the great movies of that era, of James Cagney, Edward G. Robinson and George Raft only with graphic violence and plenty of foul language. Cinematographer Pablo Diez uses interplay between bright colors and dark shadows to give the film a kind of updated noir aspect that I found interesting. While most noir feels more natural in a black and white atmosphere, Gangster Land gave the color a very noir-ish feel which is quite the accomplishment from where I’m sitting.

There is a bit of an amateurish feel to the movie that negates a lot of the good stuff. The dialogue feels wooden and unnatural and the lines are delivered in a ham-fisted and over-the-top manner that considering the caliber of some of the actors involved is a bit baffling. It’s like they’re channeling a community theater troupe at times and that feeling is a bit disonncerting.

This won’t compare well to the better film of the genre like The Untouchables for example but it’s rip-roaring entertainment in any event. This is, to my way of thinking, more George Raft than Jimmy Cagney. Those of you who love the gangster movies of the 30s and 40s will find this right up your alley particularly if your alley is dark, foggy and filled with shadowy men in fedoras and overcoats furtively carrying Tommy guns.

REASONS TO GO: The cinematography makes good use of light, shadow and color. Think of this as a nod to B movies with modern sensibilities.
REASONS TO STAY: The dialogue is well over-the-top and sounds a bit wrong-headed at times. There is a lot of scenery chewing going on.
FAMILY VALUES: There’s violence, gore, profanity and some sexuality.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: McGurn eventually became a pro golfer. He was assassinated in a bowling alley in 1936, a day after the seventh anniversary of the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 11/29/17: Rotten Tomatoes: No reviews yet. Metacritic: No reviews yet.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Public Enemies
FINAL RATING: 6/10
NEXT:
Shadowman

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The Town


The Town

Jon Hamm confronts Ben Affleck over which one looks best unshaven.

(Warner Brothers) Ben Affleck, Rebecca Hall, Jeremy Renner, Jon Hamm, Chris Cooper, Blake Lively, Pete Postlethwaite, Slaine, Owen Burke, Titus Welliver, Dennis McLaughlin, Corena Chase, Brian Scannell, Isaac Bordoy. Directed by Ben Affleck

Before the credits start rolling, we are informed that Charlestown, a suburb of Boston near the city center and populated by a predominantly working class Irish demographic, has more bank robbers per capita than anyplace in America. I don’t know that it’s true, but it certainly makes for an interesting concept.

Doug MacRay (Affleck) lives in Charlestown and is one of the aforementioned excess of criminals. He and his crew Jem (Renner), Gloansy (Slaine) and Desmond (Burke) are robbing a bank wearing ghoulish masks and so far the caper is going like clockwork. However, things go a little sideways; it’s discovered that one of the employees set off the silent alarm and Jem, a hothead, reacts by viciously beating the assistant manager whom he thinks did it. He also forces them to take pretty bank manager Claire Keesey (Hall) hostage as insurance. However, once they’re satisfied the cops didn’t follow them they let the blindfolded woman loose feeling fairly comfortable that she didn’t see anything.

What they didn’t take into account is that Claire lives in the same neighborhood as the four of them, so Doug decides to keep an eye on her to make sure that she really didn’t see anything. He arranges to “bump into her” at a local Laundromat and the two begin to like each other, and maybe something more than that.

In the meantime Agent Adam Frawley (Hamm) of the FBI is hot on the tail of the crew, even if he’s at least two steps behind him. One advantage he has is that his partner is Dino Ciampa (Welliver), who grew up in Charlestown and knows most of the guys involved. Even with that, he’s no closer to figuring out who this mysterious crew is until he figures out that one of them worked for a specific electronic security company.

Despite the heat, the crew continues to pull jobs which turn more and more violent. Doug wants nothing more than to get out, preferably with Claire as company. However, Fergus “The Florist” Colm (Postlethwaite), who sets up their jobs and gets a cut of what they pull, wants him right where he is. Doug doesn’t want to end up like his jailbird dad (Cooper) but as The Florist tightens the screws and Frawley inching closer to pinching him, he knows that something’s got to give and it might be his relationship with Claire – who is still ignorant of his identity as one of the robbers who kidnapped her and is to his mind his only way out of Charlestown.

This is Affleck’s second directorial effort and like the 2007 crime thriller Gone Baby Gone it makes excellent use of the city of Boston. There’s a car chase through the narrow alleyways of Boston that is absolutely outstanding, one of the better ones you’ll see this year. Affleck also captures the gritty flavor of Boston’s working class neighborhoods.

He has assembled an excellent cast. Renner shines as the hair-trigger Jem, who served a stretch of nine years for taking out a guy who wanted to take out Doug. His relationship with Doug is strong, but he needs Doug far more than Doug needs him, and he knows it. Lively also turned my head with a performance as Jem’s drug-addled floozy of a sister, a role as far from her “Gossip Girls” character as it’s possible to get, and serves notice that Lively is an outstanding actress in her own right. Veterans Cooper and Postlethwaite have miniscule parts, but make the most of them.

Affleck has been on a roll lately albeit mostly in supporting parts, from Hollywoodland to Extract; taking a lead role since Surviving Christmas (2004) he is very strong, although he could have used a little more flavor. He is supposed to be the brains behind the operation but never comes off as excessively clever, and we get the sense that he’s more meticulous than smart.

Affleck’s best moment as both an actor and a director comes during a scene where Doug and Claire are sitting at an outdoor cafe when Jem strolls up. Throughout the scene there’s a great deal of tension; I won’t reveal exactly the source but suffice to say that there is real jeopardy that Claire will discover that Jem is part of the gang that robbed her bank and took her hostage. Affleck the director keeps the tension at a high level, while Affleck the director sells it with his body language, trying to hide his concern from both Claire and Jem. It’s a masterfully done scene and Affleck the actor makes it work.

The movie has done surprisingly well at the box office thus far and looks to be a hit, which is good news for Affleck’s career both as a director and as a lead actor. Hopefully his work in Company Men later this month will continue that trend; after the fallout from Gigli I always thought he was unfairly stigmatized as a terrible actor, which he obviously is not and I generally look forward to seeing his movies. Here, he’s crafted a satisfying crime thriller as a director that oddly doesn’t showcase his best skills as an actor, but still shows enough of him to make the movie worth seeing and Affleck’s role memorable. It’s enough that I look forward to seeing Affleck in both capacities in the future.

REASONS TO GO: Some pretty nifty acting performances and a terrific car chase sequence make this a gritty crime thriller worth checking out.

REASONS TO STAY: The thick Boston accents can be difficult to understand from time to time and the material may be a bit too gritty for some.

FAMILY VALUES: The language is extremely rough, particularly if the F-Bomb disturbs you. There’s some sudden and brutal violence, as well as a little bit of sexuality. Mature teens can probably handle this, but I wouldn’t go much past that.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Rob Reiner founded Castle Rock, the production company behind Flipped but later sold it to Warner Brothers; this is the first time he’s worked with them since 1999.

HOME OR THEATER: The car chase is certainly worth checking out on the big screen, but otherwise the home video option is just as viable.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: The Final Destination