A sidekick to Al Capone is the hero of Timothy Woodward Jr.’s period-piece crime flick.
Trying to find a new reason to tell stories already immortalized by Howard Hawks, Brian De Palma and others, Timothy Woodward Jr.’s Gangster Land shifts the focus from larger-than-life Al Capone to his henchman Jack McGurn, a boxer-turned-enforcer who helped plan the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. Respectable period production values and some recognizable cast members are no substitute for imagination in this flat crime flick, which steals freely from its predecessors but offers none of their guilty-pleasure thrills.
Embodied most memorably as a mercurial showboat by Robert De Niro in De Palma’s The Untouchables, Capone is oddly charisma-free here, played in subdued fashion by Mel Gibson’s son Milo. At first, he’s just a henchman himself: Al is working for Johnny Torrio (Al Sapienza) when he approaches McGurn (Sean Faris) to offer him work. An innocent Italian boy who changed his name to gain accaptance in the boxing ring, Jack just wants to earn some honest (if bloody) money to help out at home. But when a rival gang kills Jack’s shopkeeper father (Pa’s homemade wine was competing with their bootleg swill), the boy goes to work for Al, intending to find the killers and have his revenge.
We might expect this nice guy (as Faris plays him) to have some qualms about what he gets into, but character development is not Williams’ forte: What conflict exists in the script is strictly of the “they hit us, we hit them” variety, with occasional pauses for lines like “the killings, the violence, it’s not good for business.” Working through a checklist of generic interactions cribbed from The Godfather and its legion of imitators, the script shows a similar indifference to the romance between Jack and Lulu Rolfe, the would-be model who became his wife. (Lulu is Jamie-Lynn Sigler, perhaps wishing she could recruit some Sopranos writers for a script polish.) Of all the action beats and tough-guy postures it copies, though, the film’s score draws the most attention: Composer Samuel Joseph Smythe owes more than a thank-you note to Ennio Morricone for his Untouchables score.
The gang-war plot plays with some monotony up until the point at which McGurn is attacked by two gunmen, who spray him with machine-gun fire while he’s trapped in a phone booth. Shockingly, he survives, and soon he’s meeting with Capone. “What’s your play?,” the big man asks coolly. “Here’s how we do this,” Jack says as he leans in and the picture fades.
What comes next is a fanboyish enactment of that famous Feb. 14th massacre, followed by one of the most anticlimactic endings witnessed in any movie about seething immigrant armies who battle for control of a booming metropolis. The antihero dies in the end, yes. But unlike in every mob movie worth its salt, this time you’d have to be a sap to care.
Production company: Status Media & Entertainment
Cast: Sean Faris, Milo Gibson, Jason Patrick, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Peter Facielli, Mark Rolston, Michael Pare, Sean Kanan, Al Sapienza
Director: Timothy Woodward Jr.
Screenwriter: Ian Patrick Williams
Producers: James Cullen Bressack, Lauren De Normandie, Jarrett Furst, Timothy Woodward Jr.
Executive producers: Patrick DePeters, Matthew Helderman, Joe Listhaus, Luke Dylan Taylor
Director of photography: Pablo Diez
Production designer: Christian Ramirez
Costume designer: Erica D. Schwartz
Editor: Paul Covington
Composer: Samuel Joseph Smythe