Firstly, I’d just like to say thank you to Status Media And Entertainment as well as Producer, James Cullen Bressack for allowing me early access to an online screener of their new Crime/Drama “Gangster Land”, Written by Ian Patrick Williams and Directed by Timothy Woodward Jr. (American Violence). Gangster Land is a story of America’s most infamous gangsters and how they rose to power. Key crime figure, Al Capone (played by Milo Gibson son of Mel) and his right hand man, former boxer Jack McGurn (played by Sean Faris from TVs Pretty Little Liars) are at the forefront of a war with the Irish in Chicago in 1922. With tensions between families on the rise, and personal tragedy striking Jack, all will come to a head in what became known as the St Valentine’s Day Massacre. The film also stars Jamie-Lynn Sigler (HBO’s “The Soprano’s”), Peter Facinelli (The Twilight Franchise), Mark Rolston (The Shawshank Redemption), Jason Patric (Sleepers) and Michael Pare (Streets Of Fire).
So who else is a bit of a sucker for a good period piece of the crime variety? A sizeable chunk of my favourite films just so happen to fall in either the crime or drama genre, so I was pleased to open my email and discover Gangster Land (not to be confused with 2013’s Gangster Squad). So, Gangster Land is a mostly 1920’s set film about Capone, made on an extremely modest budget and with a few familiar faces attached to it. My earliest film memory of Capone was Robert De Niro’s depiction of him in the 1987 film, “The Untouchables”. If you go back a ways you’ll find that the infamous mobster has been portrayed on-screen ever since the mid 50’s, with Tom Hardy believed to be the most recent actor gearing up to take on the role. Anyways… to the film. I love the era, and with what’s projected on the screen Woodward really makes the most of his limited budget. The audio is good and almost all the foley matches accordingly. From Jack’s opening boxing scene and the sound of gloves on flesh, through to Thompson machine gun fire on the streets outside the families shop, I was impressed with the sound bed overall. Timothy’s regular DP, Pablo Diez does a solid job with his framing and shot choices, nothing fancy just consistent. One of my favourite shots is the establishing one of the city of Chicago, it looks great (but surely had to be a miniature).
Costume designers don’t usually get much love in the form of written reviews, but I like to think of myself as a bit of a trendsetter so I’m highlighting Erica Schwartz’s design work. With credits on multiple feature films like Martyrs (2015), All Cheerleaders Die and Officer Downe, as well as TV shows like, Agents Of Shield and Awkward, Erica clearly knows her stuff. The suits and ties look good, the hats authentic and Sigler’s multiple hair styles for the role of Lulu are stunningly done. The music was composed by Samuel Smythe whose done extensive work in short film. The score grew on me and though there were parts of the film where I felt it lacking, I dug the deep violin and the jazz when it was present. The best piece of music is a mix of french horn, cello and bass but unfortunately there wasn’t quite enough of it for mine. So many people I recognized were popping up all over the place in Gangster Land. Facinelli as “Bugs” Moran, Capone’s rival and it was great seeing him do something a little different. Al Sapienza (another of the Soprano’s alumni) appears as Johnny Torrio, Al’s boss. Even Sean Kanan, who you’ll all remember as the cocky, Mike Barnes (from the Karate Kid franchise) makes an appearance as a corrupt detective. The strongest emotional performances come from Faris and Sigler (playing a married couple), though the surprise packet for me was Milo Gibson. Not only is he incredibly well cast as Capone, he deals best with the specific accent and timing. The amount of on-screen action is serviceable taking into account the budge,t and the practical blood effects look really good.
The choreography for the opening boxing fight looked natural enough, probably due to Faris having had previous fighting experience (we all remember Never Back Down), but upon the second and third fights I noticed neither fighter had their gloves up. Granted I haven’t done boxing, but I know a few people who have and the consensus is that the first and most important rule is keeping those gloves up. Gangster Land is a rather darkly lit film, which can sometimes work in a particular style, but in this case none of the lighting techniques or shot choices are a contrast to anything in the frame. I’ve already touched on the score, the jazz is good but there’s no central theme which is usually required to match it with the best crime films. During the closing stages there’s a time shift from 1922 to 1936. I understand the need for it story wise, but those years elapsed need to be obvious, they need to have aged the characters, something that’s almost impossible to do without the latest technology or the best makeup artists. There’s some fairly average dialogue here and there which does manifest itself in one or two uneventful scenes. U.S born, Mark Rolston tackles an Irish accent by playing Dion O’Banion, no doubt one of the most difficult accents to master. For the most part he’s alright, but there’s that tendency to fall in an out on certain words. Even Faris has to portray his character with a fleck of Italian, albeit American born Italian and just as Rolston does, he wades here and there. I was confused by the name McGurn as well, which sounds far more Irish than it does Italian (though I do recall him using a fake name to stay clear of being condemned). I found it hard to believe that Jack wouldn’t have checked in on his mother at least once or twice given everything that was going on at that time. She’s more or less written out of the film without warning, so to Jack’s little brother.
Gangster Land is unfortunately a bit guilty of being same same. It’s yet another crime film that treads familiar waters but just doesn’t do it as well as some. Think “Gangster Squad” meets the underrated “Live By Night”, only an independent addition to the genre. I love the setting and I think Woodward gets a fair bit right here. The audio is clean, the camera work solid and the music, period appropriate. I think the two best aspects are the costume design and the smart casting of these faces you’ll surely recognize. The acting is mostly reliable and the gun play is a good bit of fun too. I didn’t love the lighting design and some of the attention to detail clearly lacks, most notably with the makeup and the fluctuating accents. Some of the dialogue left a bit to be desired and a couple of scenes could’ve been cut without the film losing anything. As it stands, if you enjoy lesser known films like “Kill The Irishman” and “10th And Wolf” or you love the genre I think you’ll probably enjoy this one. Gangster Land is available on VOD from December 1st. You can check out the trailer below.
My rating for “Gangster Land” is 5.5/10