Justification of violence – Gangster Squad

Ganster Squad - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Ganster Squad – Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Gangster Squad (2013)

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writers: Will Beall, Paul Lieberman (book)
Stars: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

I have been seeing a trend in American pop culture of the justification of violence. It’s apparently okay to kill the bad guys as long as you only kill the bad guys. If you look at Dexter, Arrow, Justified, Burn Notice, among other TV shows and films, you see this trend of the “good guys” fighting against the “bad guys” using the bad guys techniques against them. I’m not sure I agree with that philosophy of justice. There is something wonderful about Law & Order and the process of justice and law that treats the bad guys as people. The idea that you are innocent until proven guilty has meant that a lot of innocent people have been able to prove their innocence even with the authorities trying to prove them guilty. But what do you do when someone has bought their freedom and their position so far up the ladder that they can get away with tearing a man apart by chaining him between two cars? That’s the kind of evil you are dealing with in Gangster Squad. With all witnesses scared to death to testify you can get away with murder, literally.

This film is violent, that was what was expected, I mean it is a gangster film, but it’s not just violent, it questions the morals and values we have about justice and law and order. Both the good guys and the bad guys are as bad as each other. They are killing people left, right, and centre and show no remorse. It is a necessary evil for the good guys because of what they are dealing with. But in the end it isn’t the violence that takes down Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his gang, it is the testimony of a bold witness, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) who was Cohen & Sgt. Jerry Wooter’s (Ryan Gosling) lover. She was bold enough and protected enough to testify to take Cohen down. The justice system does still work; going against the law just amplifies the body count in the end.

Gangster Squad is an entertaining gangster film but it doesn’t do anything different to any other gangster film and so was slightly disappointing. It was dark and gloomy like other gangster films and even with it’s moments of light humour it didn’t move from the basic structure of a gangster film. To be honest I love the formula of gangster films, but I went in with the expectation that this would be different. I shouldn’t have been surprised that it wasn’t and it wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it, it was just that it was unoriginal. Even with it being built upon a true story it was unadventurous. It’s a fun story and the acting is brilliant but it failed to inspire me.

2.7/5

Time Travel Is Complicated – Men In Black 3

Men In Black 3 - Official Poster - from IMDB.com

Official Poster – from IMDB.com

Men In Black 3

Agent J travels in time to MIB’s early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld
Writers: Etan Cohen, Lowell Cunningham (Malibu comic)
Stars: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin

Oh that opening ten minutes was trying. At one point I thought one of my friends was going to gross out and leave. Fortunately we all stayed and the third installment of the Men in Black franchise surpassed expectation. I have to say after the horrific experience of the second Men in Black my expectations were not high. And once you get passed the gross, icky insect crawling into a man’s hand then the story gets interesting. The alien in this film is bizarre but Boris the Animal really compels a fascination in the audience to wonder how Boris was captured in the first place and how Agent K managed to control him into a prison.

With the complications that time travel can bring, the script works quite well in the way it solves the problem of Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin) disappearing from most people’s memory except Agent J (Will Smith). The humour and the action are as they ever were, impressive and entertaining. There are some moments when the film waned and I was just waiting for the next bit of action to happen, especially with the romance side plot between Agent K and Agent O (Emma Thompson). And here I was thinking that he had always loved that woman who he had stalked via satellite and gone off to be with at the end of the first film. I suppose this was before then, but still what a woman magnet that man must’ve been! I really enjoyed the way they explored the reason behind why Agent K is so emotionally withdrawn and secretive about his life. It gives a new depth to the character that we don’t really see in the other films however I’m still a bit confused the way the phone call works where Kay tells Jay that he will tell him all the universe’s secrets tomorrow. But apart from that small hiccup in logic (probably more on my naivety then the filmmakers) the film runs smoothly and the complexity works.

The best bit about this film is the character (and performance of) Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg) the multidimensional being. He is the perfect amount of quirky and plot-solving-elegant. His quirkiness is not too overpowering and not too underplayed either. Stuhlbarg’s performance was gripping and had me both laughing and feeling emotional at the same time. He was a redeeming feature of the film when the narrative waned.

Overall Men In Black 3 was way better than the second one but still floundered at points when you expected it to soar and thus it had moments where you could easily tune out and tune back in five minutes later. It is a fun film but one that you could wait for DVD/Bluray to see unfortunately. Although the shots of Will Smith falling to the ground is impressive on the big screen, as is the fight scene on the Apollo 11 launch tower. I want to watch this film again which usually means I like the film but I suppose like anything it’s not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.