Tag Archives: sean penn

Gangster Squad (2013)

“Well ya gotta die of somethin’.”

Cast: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone

gangster-squadIt’s a simple formula we have seen time and time again: A group of honest cops emerge from a corrupt police force to bring down a ruthless mob king. I’ve been getting into the mob/ gangster genre recently and I had been looking forward to the release of this film for a while. However the opening revealed that the film was “inspired by true events”, basically a disclaimer that it was going to be excessive, fast, fairly unrealistic and very loosely based on the actual history. From here on out, my expectations dwindled a little.

One of the main reasons I wanted to see this film was Ryan Gosling. The boy is doing well: Blue Valentine, Drive, The Ides of March – I couldn’t wait to see what else was in store for us with his continued choice of brilliant film roles. With him were Sean Penn and Emma Stone, two more actors who I quite like. These were the film’s saving graces, and probably the only reasons that it didn’t flop too hard.

They all provided quite standard performances, nothing out of this world, but that might have been down to the script – I’d like to think so anyway. Gosling and Stone were great to watch on screen together and they managed to rekindle the chemistry they had in Crazy Stupid Love, though it was more fiery and dangerous this time round. Penn was good as mob king Mickey Cohen, though I think he could have been a bit scarier. While he did capture moments of Cohen’s notoriety, I think he could have pushed further with this.

The cast all carried the potential to make this film better. However it seemed they were all hired to hit some sort of stereotype. To look at the gang of good cops just proves this: We have Josh Brolin, hero with a good heart. Ryan Gosling, womaniser, bad boy and cheeky chappy. Robert Patrick, old man who still has it. Anthony Mackie, black cop. Giovanni Ribisi, geeky electronics dude. Michael Pena, annoying tag along who saves the day. It’s very predicable. Unfortunately.

One of the things I quite liked was the look of overall the film. The cinematography was all very polished and the bright neon lights reflected the 50s era very well. It ran very smoothly and the gloss gave the film a nice appeal; quite a lot of films are choosing this sharp look recently. However I’m not too sure whether it suited the genre very well which is another hurdle the film falls at. Set in 1949, Gangster Squad is doing its best to rival films such as LA Confidential and Chinatown, but its glossy finish and slick feel doesn’t compare to the downright gritty realism these other films provide. This type of cinematography doesn’t coincide with such a dirty genre. I think it would have been better on the other end of the spectrum – colder, harder and bleaker.

Gangster Squad does prove to be an alright film, though it had potential to be much more than that. While it’s not up to standards you would hope, it does happen to fall into a ‘guilty pleasure’ type category. It’s a fun and entertaining watch so will be a good form of escapism for a few hours, but don’t go into it expecting something new or original.

Star rating:   6/10

Directed by Ruben Fleischer.

Running time 113 minutes.

The Tree of Life (2011)

“The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by.”

Cast: Brad Pitt, Sean Penn and Jessica Chastain

The Tree of Life is the most beautiful film I’ve seen in a long time. Maybe the most beautiful film I’ve seen, period.

In what can only be described as an epic, director Terrence Malick has brought breathtaking visuals and awesome photography of the highest standards and layered it over a fairly simple plot.

Modern day Jack O’Brien (Sean Penn) starts to question his relevance and reason for being, on the anniversary of his brothers death. Through his childhood memories The Tree of Life explores his adolescent years during the 1950s in Waco, Texas. With the sweet and sensitive grace of his mother completely contrasted against the brash, hard and unforgiving nature of his father, his pubescent years are very much a struggle for Jack who is simply torn in finding the right path to take.

The actors are all superb. Brad Pitt plays an emotionally withdrawn, business oriented man striving for success. In the film depicted as taking the path of nature, he is hard on his children and tells them that to be successful in this world, sacrifices are to be made. You won’t get anywhere by being a pushover. Jessica Chastain would be this ‘pushover’ he is referring to. The wife of Pitt and mother to his 3 children, Chastain’s character is seen to adopt the much more loving and homely way of grace. Believing that life is nothing without love, she tries to influence her boys in making the decision to stay on the path of grace which can only leave you feeling like life is worth something.

However their 3 boys are very much torn between their parents. All 3 of the actors that portray the children are brilliant, Hunter McCraken, Laramie Eppler and Tye Sheridan. Hunter, who portrays a young Jack, is especially great. His efforts at keeping within his mother’s way of grace are difficult for him, especially with his father hammering home he’ll make it nowhere with this mentality. He battles constantly and starts to lose his way when his father leaves for business and he automatically becomes the man of the house.

Unfortunately for Sean Penn I felt he was dealt a rough card. His character is obviously going through a massive period of doubt and breakdown in his life, and the undeniable emotion that Penn was striving for wasn’t quite as well transcribed to film. Perhaps the editing could have been a bit nicer to his character, but I felt that he was dealt a bit of a bad hand which left his character looking a bit useless and detached on screen.

The bad things I can say about The Tree of Life are minimal. Its non-linear narrative can be confusing at times, often jumping from one time period to the next with no explanation as to why, and its theme of religion is fairly prominent, which isn’t to everyones liking. While you don’t have to be religious to understand the messages given or to even watch the film, I get the impression some people may find it too preachy. I certainly didn’t, but going to see this film in the wrong mindset leaves space for criticism, perhaps the main being the religious aspects of the film.

The major thing about the film that has been its main criticism is the artistic direction. For me, this is in no way a bad thing. Malick’s beautiful direction and unquestionable passion for this film has meant some have written it off as a pretentious effort at explaining the origins of the universe and religion. To me, this complaint is because they couldn’t reach out and find any other faults. The acting was superb, the visuals were stunning and they were simply left feeling confused about the story, so they turn their finger and point it at the cinematography. This isn’t why you didn’t like the film. You didn’t like it because your mind was closed and you’d made your decision within the first 5 minutes. (But that’s just my opinion)

The best thing to do before watching this film is to make sure you have no preconceptions or expectations, this is why I think I left feeling changed at the end. Don’t watch the film for the wrong reasons. Don’t watch it to escape from your own life for a couple of hours, because in the end the film will point back at you. Watch it to challenge yourself in asking questions about your own life.

Star rating:  8.5/10

Directed by Terrence Malick.

Running time 138 minutes.

The Game (1997)

“I’m being toyed with by a bunch of depraved children.”

Cast: Michael Douglas, Deborah Kara Unger and Sean Penn

The Game

When wealthy businessman Nicholas Van Orton (Michael Douglas) is given a gift voucher for ‘The Game’ as a birthday present from his brother Conrad (Sean Penn), he doesn’t realise how much it will control and become his life until he starts playing.

What we have with The Game is a very smart film that leaves you in a position where you don’t know what’s right and wrong. It challenges the mind and dares the viewer to decide between events that are actually reality and what is merely part of the game. I haven’t been so engrossed and intrigued for the whole length of film in a long time, each scene had subtle hints and pieces of the puzzle suggesting certain things, but as soon as you think you have a handle on the game, it totally throws you off. But this teasing only works to contribute to the enigma of the film, one of its great qualities.

The film was all about Douglas, and he holds his part very well. He manages to pull in the audience and make you feel his frustration, yet not getting emotional before the film calls for it. He carries it all the way through and there is never any lacking on his part; he was cast very well as Nicholas. Deborah Kara Unger is a great supporting actress. She plays a completely unpredictable and impulsive character, very fitting for the film. She also ensures there are constant elements of doubt and intrigue and her ability to do this is flawless. I really had no idea where she stood until the climax of the film.

Before The Game, David Fincher had previously directed Se7en, so there was a lot of anticipation built up around the film. He apparently had his eye on this project for years, and you can really see his passion and talent ooze out in each scene. While some people may feel as though it doesn’t stand up next to the phenomenal Se7en, The Game is still fantastic. They both have completely different plots, objections and messages to deliver, yet each do it with a certain style that ensures that the full potential within each script is maxed out.

The Game is one of the best physiological thrillers have seen. A definite must watch and one that Fincher should be very proud of.

Star rating: 8.5/10

Directed by David Fincher.

Running time 129 minutes.

Milk (2008)

“All men are created equal. No matter how hard you try, you can never erase those words.”

Cast:  Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Emile Hirsch

Milk

Sean Penn stars in the biographical film about Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist who went on to become the first openly gay man elected into the public office of California.

Milk is a truly moving film that captures the rise and fall of Harvey, who was unfortunately assassinated by Dan White (Josh Brolin), less than a year after he got into office.

The performances in this film are amazing. Especially from Penn who I have never seen connect with a script so well, his performance is most certainly the best and it’s great to see him pull off a role so well. Maybe it’s because of the undeniable history and influential role that Harvey Milk played in society. He is such an icon to the gay community and anyone that stands for equality, that I think everybody working on this project knew they had to do it justice. Brolin is fabulous as White and James Franco is brilliant as Harvey’s lover Scott Smith, really showing off his acting talents that are going to see him in this business for years.

The focus within the film was great. Yes, obviously there had to be a certain level of attention on Harvey as he is the film, but it never strays from the point at hand making it coherent and consistent, two great features that some films lose focus of when trying to be perfect in every way. It also doesn’t shy away when documenting Harvey’s life. Though he was fighting for a very just cause, Harvey wasn’t a saint and the film doesn’t paint him out to be – which only adds to his levels of humanity. Some directors may have tried to manipulate Harvey’s lifestyle in order to paint him as the perfect role model, yet it’s these little traits that really place the film in the category of a great biopic and not some distortion of the truth, which was a very redeeming factor.

Gus Van Sant directs the film and does so with a brilliant handle on the inspiring story. This film re-introduced him back to mainstream cinema as he had been directing art-house projects in previous years. It is smart, emotional, slick and very informative, and anyone who wants a closer look at Milk’s aspirations and vision should really turn to this film. Though these events happened just over 30 years ago it seems a lifetime away. The film gives great insight to a significant piece of history and shows how far we have come as a society since the late 70s, but don’t be fooled, we still have a long way to go.

I can’t recommend Milk enough, a fantastic film that shows the rise and fall of one of the most influential people in history and his fight for equality, Harvey Milk.

Star rating:  8/10

Directed by Gus Van Sant.

Running time 128 minutes.