HBO’s Boardwalk Empire is a show I have yet to see one full scene from, but it’s success is having a lingering effect on studios and screenwriters it seems. Last week saw the debut of two trailers for upcoming films showcasing the same gangster noir milieu as the award-winning TV drama. By all means this is not a new genre of course, and in 2009 Michael Mann possibly re-energized the trend itself with his flawed take on John Dillinger’s escapades, Public Enemies. That film was released before Boardwalk even aired, and it felt more like a biopic than a straightforward genre piece. The two films set to be released in the second half of this year definitely have a more self-contained concept much like James Mangold’s 3:10 to Yuma remake did as a Western. It is fair to say then, Boardwalk specifically has gotten the execs in Hollywood clambering to bring the latest genre flavour of month to the forefront; and that would be gangsters of the Tommy Gun variety. Given that the trend has allowed studios to reel in some high-profile actors and directors onto each project as well, I thought I’d showcase them here which doing so may or may not become a trend of my own.
First up is John Hillcoat’s Lawless. The Australian director is probably best known for the acclaimed The Proposition and 2009’s outstanding Cormac McCarthy adaptation, The Road. Based on a novel, the film seemed originally to be a vehicle for actor Shia LaBeouf and to be filmed in 2010. After financial problems, it eventually was green lit with LaBeouf staying on and Hillcoat set to direct a screenplay written by musician and virtual collaborator of the director, one Nick Cave. The eccentric singer/songwriter/author is also handling the score duties which he has done for similar themed pictures (including The Proposition and The Assassination of Jesse James). I’m not the biggest fan of LaBeouf, but it is refreshing at least seeing him pursue different roles rather than just star in Michael Bay blockbusters constantly. Plus he is almost counted out by the beyond stellar supporting cast that includes (the next DeNiro) Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and a menacing looking Guy Pearce. Hillcoat has proved to be a director with a fine visual eye and does minimal very well. Hardy and Pearce look to steal the show, and despite it no doubt playing out predictably, after viewing the trailer below and given the talent involved, I’ll say I’m quietly anticipating Lawless. The film is due to debut at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival with a September 6th Australian release date.
So while Lawless could be considered an “independent” film, the major players are not looking to be left out on cashing in on the next genre trend either. Due out in Australia about a month after that film (1st of November), is Warner Bros’ Gangster Squad. The title may seem a bit silly in 2012, but if it was the 1930’s it wouldn’t. I get the feeling WB’s is definitely going for something that will hopefully one day fit alongside the classics of the era such as Little Ceaser and the The Public Enemy. Judging by the trailer, the noir is set, the violence is plentiful and cast is major, so the studio has certainly put a lot of weight behind this one betting it to be just that. Ironically, a film already considered a “modern classic” by many, 1997’s excellent LA Confidential, is clearly an influence here by the looks of it too.
As mentioned, the cast is a big one. Or at least the leads. Lawless seems to have a better ensemble overall, but Gangster Squad boasts Sean Penn as bad guy head honcho, and real-life mafia man Mickey Cohen as well as Josh Brolin and perhaps Hollywood’s latest leading man to die for, Ryan Gosling heading the list. Penn is a brilliant actor and is known for inhabiting his roles to the point of being unrecognizable (Milk, This Must be The Place etc), so to see him embrace a Jewish Gangster such as he seems to have done here, should prove to be worth the ticket price alone. Squad is certainly the glossier of the two films. Major studio production values, high calibre cast and clearly a truck load of well executed set pieces will abound thanks to Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer. I don’t really want to compare them however, but I think after they come out, audiences will inevitably do so which is partly why I chose to showcase them together. Plus they chose to put the release dates close and released the trailer at almost the same time, so they’re basically asking for it. Put into context, I’m not sure which one will turn out to be the better film, but either way hide the booze, because prohibition is on its way.