Digital Devolution

Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen in 'Gangster Squad'

Gangster Squad‘s likely contribution to film history will be to further the ongoing debate over film or digital as the preferred medium for movies. Director Ruben Fleischer, who to this point has contented himself with comedy, wants his dramatic debut to be The Untouchables meets L.A. Confidential, with Sean Penn chewing so much scenery it’s a wonder there was any money at all for production design. It’s a standout performance but only in the sense that it’s so ludicrous and overplayed that it obliterates the scenes in which he appears. For the rest of the picture, Fleischer seems content to leave his talented group of actors stranded in a crop of verbal corn, mining old clichés for the tiniest nugget of distinctiveness and leaving them — and the audience — wanting.

Warner Bros. seem content to let the movie die from the outset considering the hardware Fleischer was given to photograph it. With all the hubbub surrounding the 48fps technology that debuted with Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit, a real atrocity was being committed with low-quality HD cameras that make even the smallest movement look like paint streaks across the screen. By the finale, the filmmakers seemed to have surrendered completely and filmed it with the nearest telenovela cameras.

If he wants to work digitally, Fleischer should give David Fincher a call next time.

See instead: L.A. Confidential (1997): A smart, complex, and intense 50s noir that makes the audience work hard for its reward, but it’s a reward that pays back handsomely. Aggressively electric performances by Russell Crowe and Guy Pearce will keep you riveted.