Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Gangster Squad; another lesson in poor management technique

On a scale of one to ten for "You got that job how, exactly?" John Lithgow's crime boss in Cliffhanger comes in at eleventy billion and a bit, simply because it's hard to understand how someone could be clever enough to figure out how to rob a plane in midair, charismatic enough to get a whole gang to give it a try, and yet visibly monkeyshit crazy enough to think that "When they err, murder them." is a viable management technique. Using the same scale, Sean Penn's Mickey Cohen rates about a seven or eight, tops, because there's no moment during the movie which suggests that we're in the presence of a sophisticated mind; clearly Mickey is the product of an eco-system which prizes pure atavistic murderousness over mere subtlety.

Since the movie Gangster Squad is also the product of an eco-system which … well you can see where I'm going here … this insight into Mickey's psychology is spelled out for us in a voice-over which stops short of explaining where Los Angeles is and what its average rainfall was in each month during 1949. Mickey is bad news, ruling by fear and whatever he has to do to generate more fear. So we meet him having a guy ripped in half by two cars. On the one hand, I'm not sure if it works as we're shown it, and on the other I bet that never happened in real life, but then again the movie ends with a shoot-out which rivals the storming of the bunker in Hell is for Heroes, so it might be that real life wasn't a big influence (the movie opens with the title card "inspired by real events", the Hollywood get-out-of-jail-free card for making stuff up entirely but at least getting the hats right). 

While it's not much of a shock to see that Mickey treats his rivals poorly, it's depressing to see Hollywood continue to push the idea that the essence of effective leadership is instant hideous death for anyone associated with a setback. Mickey's pimping academy gets raided; his response is to burn it down, with the manager inside. Mickey's heroin shipment gets intercepted; his response is to have his subordinates drill a hole in the sole survivor's head. This left me wondering why the LAPD thought they needed a Gangster Squad. Given Mickey's efforts to make the gangster lifestyle profoundly unattractive for anyone living within a twenty mile radius, there didn't seem to be much call for a secondary effort to discourage people from joining his forces. I'd have figured all they really needed was one guy in a nice suit to sidle up to all the aspiring crims and whisper out of the side of his mouth "That Mickey, huh? Kind of a dick. Really would make you think about moving to Florida, wouldn't it?"

Because movie world, no more than the real world, does not run on the basis of my common sense ideas, Chief Parker (growled, rather than performed, by Nick Nolte) went another way, empowering Josh Brolin to put together a dirty half dozen or so and go round breaking the law on an epic scale to slow Mickey up somewhat. I have to admit, this was why I watched the thing at all. In addition to the ever reliable Josh, we had Ryan Gosling and Robert Patrick. They're always fun, particularly Robert Patrick, who's growing into a more affordable and less annoying Jon Voight. Anyhow, they put the hurt on Mickey something wicked, pausing from time to time to take casualties in the most predictable way possible. This is yet another one of those movies which allows every doomed character one last speech about their hopes, dreams and doubts, and then having duly humanised them just enough, schwacks the holy hell out of them. In Hollywood, if you want to live forever, get a job on the good team, act as much like an asshole as you can while still staying almost likeable, and never, ever waver. The moment you show weakness, compassion or humanity, you're a goner. Also, avoid having a kid, or anything which might play like a kid. No pets. Don't mentor anyone; I cannot emphasise how suicidal it is for a law man to have a young protege who needs to learn just one more lesson.

And why is all this worrying? Well, it's the impact of all this violence on weak and easily influenced minds. Specifically, the weak and easily influenced minds of senior managers everywhere, who will learn from this movie that; effective management involves killing the survivors of any setback, regardless of whether they were involved; it's always a mistake to show kindness or human emotion; it's suicidal ever to share the secrets of effective work with anyone junior to you; and rules are really just for the little people; big people are above such things.

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