Gangster Squad’s Nod to Sunset Boulevard


This past week, I went to see “Gangster Squad,” a movie detailing the LAPD’s battle with gangster Micky Cohen in Los Angeles during the late 40′s. Those of you who know me well know that I’m obsessed with that period of time known as “LA Noir.” The mix of post WWII optimism / confidence, the boom of the LA entertainment industry (and the film noir genre), personal freedoms (the introduction of freeways, women’s rights, etc.), and the struggle with crime and drugs makes for an incredibly interesting era to read about. Hence why I HAD to see the film.

The movie itself kind of blew (I’m starting to realize Ryan Gosling is only a good actor when he doesn’t talk, like in Drive), but it was great to look at. The filmmakers perfectly captured the look and feel of the era with a nice glossy glow to it, with lots of great memorable shots. There was one particular shot, though, worth appreciating a little more.

About 2/3 into the film, Emma Stone’s character watches her friend get shot and killed by Micky Cohen (don’t worry, it’s not a major spoiler.) The man falls into the pool as the camera cuts to a dynamic shot from underwater, showing the victim’s surprised face and Micky Cohen’s blurry figure standing poolside, looking down. (Sorry I don’t have a photo of it, Gangster Squad’s not on Pirate Bay yet.)

Does that shot sound familiar to you? If you’ve seen “Sunset Boulevard”, the 1950 film noir classic, it probably does. I mean, it’s the first scene in the film:


The shot’s famous for being the first to successfully capture the “from-the-bottom-of-the-pool-looking-up” look. Wasn’t easy to do either – turns out the director, after being unhappy with using a camera inside a waterproof box, stuck a mirror on the bottom of the pool and achieved the shot from the surface using its reflection.

It’s awesome that Gangster Squad managed to pull off a meta reference to an actual film from the era it portrayed – a film noir that really captured the essence of Hollywood in a nutshell. There’s probably some sort of comparison you can make too between Mickey Cohen and Norma Desmond about how they were, at the time of the shootings in their respective films, both former hotshots in denial about their dwindling relevance and lost power. But maybe that’s reading too much into it.

Just a shame that that shot was probably the only thing noir about the film. Should’ve saw Django again instead.

January 22, 2013 Film