Geoff Cox’s DVDs: Gangster Squad

Sean Penn in Gangster Squad
Sean Penn in Gangster Squad
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Action-heavy crime thriller GANGSTER SQUAD (15: Warner) has more brawn than brains, but sets its sights firmly from the start and hits the mark with relish.

Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn, it’s based on a true story about New York mob kingpin Mickey Cohen (played to the hilt by Penn) bringing his organisation to Los Angeles in 1949.

He rapidly seizes control of the city’s criminal activity and corrupts the authorities to ensure no one stands up to him.

But the chief of police discreetly sets up a task force with the intention of bringing the mobster to justice. Subtlety flies out of the window, along with the baddies, and the subject of corruption at the LAPD was portrayed with much more sophistication in LA Confidential.

Director Ruben Fleischer takes a basic, gung-ho approach and does well to blend flamboyantly staged violence with dark humour, while splashing the budget on a glossy re-creation of ‘40s LA.

Brolin’s upstanding sergeant gives the movie a moral backbone, although Gosling upstages him with effortless poise, fraying at the edges after getting involved with Cohen’s moll (Emma Stone).

> Inoffensive and insubstantial drama HYDE PARK ON HUDSON (12: Universal) centres on a visit by King George VI (Samuel West) and Queen Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) to the eponymous New York estate of Franklin D Roosevelt (Bill Murray) in 1939.

While the royals hope to persuade the US to side with Britain in the Second World War, their host is more concerned with pursuing a secret affair with a distant cousin.

The film is based on the private letters and journals of the cousin, Margaret Suckley, aka Daisy (Laura Linney), though it remains a little coy about just how close.

If it had been made 60 or 70 years ago, audiences might have been more surprised at the notion that an American president had a lover or two, and more amused by the discomfort of British royalty confronted with the prospect of eating something called “hot dogs”.

Some details strike a chord, such as photographers who keep their cameras down as FDR, who was crippled with polio, is carried to his car.

Yet you’re left with the feeling that the film-makers have taken a great moment in history and by attempting to examine the human element behind it, have lost sight of it.

> Leatherface is back in semi-coherent, morally confused and superfluous sequel TEXAS CHAINSAW (18: Lionsgate), which offers more slicing and dicing by filmdom’s favourite chainsaw-toting cannibal.

He emerges implausibly from the basement of the old family home to butcher its new occupants, but there’s a family tie and blood ultimately proves thicker than slaughter.

Nearly 40 years separate this and Tobe Hooper’s original everyday story of flesh-eating folk. There’s no Hooper this time and it fails to match the short, sharp shocks of the 1974 classic.

The movie is full of missed opportunities, with precious little to satisfy even the most easily pleased of horror film fans. Clint Eastwood’s son, Scott, has a prominent role, but it isn’t something he’ll want to write home about.