Welcome to Thursday Trailer Face-Off, a feature in which we cast a critical eye on two similar upcoming film releases, pitting them against each other across a variety of categories to determine which is most deserving of your two hours. This week: Looper vs. Gangster Squad, two time-specific gangster films starring It-boys with sketchy street accents and one It-girl each.
PremiseBoth trailers begin with ominous, high-stakes, scene-setting background noise—the second hand of a pocket watch ticking away in Looper, and Jumanji-like steady tempo music, mixed with Sean Penn slurring, in Gangster Squad. Looper, it seems, is about a skilled assassin or “looper,” played by It-boy number one, Joseph Gordon Levitt, whose targets are transported to him from the future. For some reason, it appears as though most of JGL’s hits take place in a cornfield. Rural killings aside, the life of a successful looper is pretty sweet—red sports-cars, pretty waitresses who say things like “Ooh la la,” burlesque shows, more pretty girls in bed. Problems arise, however, when a looper fails to off his target—a target that just happens to be his future self (played by Bruce Willis). Poor present-day JGL is facing the wrath of the future mob and a rogue future self on the loose, whom he must hunt down to finish his job. We presume that in the full-length film, self-killing is going to be something of a dilemma for Levitt, but from the trailer, it seems he’s choosing to “live for the moment.”
The trailer for Gangster Squad also shows a glimpse of the ill-gotten high life, this time circa the 1940s. An East Coast mobster relocated to LA, Sean Penn’s world is mansions with marble hallways, champagne dinners, and Emma Stone. Nonetheless, as in Looper, it’s not all puppies and cupcakes for this gangster—the LAPD (Nick Nolte) have started a ruthless, off-the-books gangster squad headed by Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin! And while pre-WW2 mobsters are generally a safe-film bet, we applaud Looper for trying put a fresh twist on the ol’ hit-man trope with a little bit of reverse time-traveling. Advantage: Looper
Gangster Squad’s pulled out the big bucks and stars the aforementioned Sean Penn; Josh Brolin; recent Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Nick Nolte; New York’s superhero Ryan Gosling; and Giovanni Ribisi of Generation-X-films-and-Phoebe’s-little-brother-in-Friends fame. Most of these actors have been in critically acclaimed law-breaker/mob/cop/crooked cop films before—Mystic River for Penn, American Gangster for Brolin, and Boiler Room for Ribisi (kidding!) are among the first that spring to mind.
Looper boasts Levitt, Paul Dano, Jeff Daniels, and Bruce Willis. While we’re willing to favor Gordon-Levitt and Dano over Gosling (who’s overexposed, we feel), when it comes to the former ‘80s heartthrobs, a Goonie and a Fast Times pizza-loving surfer totally trump Die Hard and whatever Jeff Daniels was in.
Advantage: Gangster Squad
Emily Blunt and Piper Perabo round out the cast of Looper, while two redheads, Emma Stone and The Killing‘s Mirielle Enos, play the female characters in Gangster Squad. For personal reasons, we are very tempted to go with Emily Blunt and Piper Perabo—we’ve talked to her before and can vouch that she’s a very nice person. Plus, Coyote Ugly was a seminal film for many 2001 preteens (perhaps Easy A was a seminal film for 2010 preteens, but we don’t know anyone under the age of 18, so…). Alas, such a decision would probably spark public outcry: Emma Stone is so very hypercool right now, and she and Gosling make a nice pair; their fictitious love made the end of Crazy Stupid Love almost bearable. The Killing gives us nightmares, but we are always in favor of strong female-lead non-sitcoms. Advantage: Gangster Squad
DirectorWe’re dealing with two relative rookies here—Looper‘s writer-director Rian Joseph’s most notable credit to date is 2005’s Brick (also starring Levitt) and an episode of Breaking Bad. Gangster Squad is director Ruben Fleischer’s third studio film, following Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less. Brick was great if polarizing; eh for Zombieland and 30 Minutes.
This is a bit of an unfair category—the only music in Looper is strictly background funfair ride-techno. Gangster Squad, on the other hand, manages to jam in some Jay-Z as well as the waiting-in-a-queue-for-a-roller-coaster, atmospheric stuff. Jay-Z is not a historically accurate choice, but, the secret gangster squad reminds us a little of the early ’00s NYPD rap patrol, which, if you read the book our man Matt Diehl wrote with the “hip-hop cop,” you’ll know actually did exist.
Advantage: Gangster Squad
The VerdictLooks like Gangster Squad wins by a hair (and a more en vogue cast). Most things with Sean Penn or Josh Brolin in them seem like a safe bet, and Stone and Gosling know how to drawn in the young folk. We’re not completely ruling out Looper, but its premise is more risky and could possibly lead to two hours of Inception-like disappointment.Winner: Gangster Squad
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