Review: Gangster Squad

Directed by: Ruben Fleischer.

Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick.

Rating:   Running Time: 113 mins.

Set in 1940’s Los Angeles, Gangster Squad follows the story of Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), who has returned home after World War II to a town run by gangsters and filled with so much corruption that he no longer recognises it. O’Mara is noticed as one of only a few honest cops in the city, and one willing to stand up to known gangsters such as Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). One day he’s brought into the office of Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) and asked to put together a small squad of cops, not to make arrests, but with the aim of interrupting Cohen’s criminal enterprises so that he can no longer afford to do business.

With the help of his wife Connie (Mireille Enos) who reads over the files of possible recruits, O’Mara recruits a handful of detectives including Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick). Eventually they are joined by a reluctant Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), a man who is having a secret relationship with Cohen’s girlfriend Grace (Emma Stone), and the Gangster Squad sets out to stop Cohen’s hold over the city from growing ever stronger, with raids on his casinos and drug shipments.

I have to admit, I went into this fairly conflicted. Directed by Ruben Fleischer who seemed competent with his comedy horror movie Zombieland, and with a great cast in front of the camera with Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Emma Stone and in particular Ryan Gosling (who I will see in almost any movie after his excellent performance in Drive), it seemed like all the crucial elements were there. But the movie’s advertising campaign was awful, with a mis-matched style that suited a movie set much more in present day than in the 1940’s. If I had to use one word to describe it’s campaign it could only be ‘off-putting’.

Gangster Squad has it’s moments, there are decent performances (though Sean Penn, with a layer of make-up to show up his former boxing days, could have easily been replaced with Mickey Rourke in the part as even Rourke can’t chew scenery like this), some nice work on the parts of wardrobe and sets that have that 1940’s feel to it, but the movie fails where it really matters with this kind of movie, in the writing. The characters are just flat, uninteresting, and not worthy of the care that the movie is attempting to illicit from the audience.

What’s worse is that during some nicely constructed action sequences, with shootouts between the cops and the gangsters, there’s some overly elaborate shots and editing that make the action set-pieces hard to follow, with quick cuts between the action that shows characters being shot, without you being able to tell who it was and whether you should be cheering or should be concerned for the heroes until the scene is over.

The movie’s focus is also lacking, with the decision to place Brolin’s O’Mara centre stage as the main character, when in fact the best screen presence and more interesting character is Gosling’s Wooters, who would have made for a far more interesting point of focus for the majority of the movie’s running time, especially given his setup as an outsider to the squad who only joins them after an experience that forces him to reconsider. The nature of his dangerous liaison with Emma Stone’s Grace also would have made him the more interesting character to follow throughout the movie’s run time.

Gangster squad could have been a thoroughly enjoyable and engrossing experience, it’s nowhere near as disastrous a movie as the last movie to be set in that era, Public Enemies, but it’s more nearer that than movies like The Untouchables or L.A. Confidential that it’s trying to be, and sadly failing. Though the movie does wind up to a fairly satisfying conclusion, if you haven’t seen it yet and are considering it, maybe best to wait until the DVD release. It will feel more at home on a TV screen as it’s sadly lacking the depth that a cinematic movie should have, and results in a distinctly TV-movie of the week experience.

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Posted on January 20, 2013, in Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Yeah this was hard to watch. Sean Penn actually gave a bad performance. Emma Stone was wasted and had no chemistry with Ryan Gosling. Must be the movie because they were great in Crazy, Stupid Love.

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