Gangster Squad Review – Guys & Molls

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Writer: Will Beall

Stars: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn


Release date: January 13th, 2013

Distributors: Warner Br0s. Pictures, Roadshow Entertainment

Country: USA

Running time: 113 minutes



Best part: Charismatic performances.

Worst part: Its lack of depth.

A girl, carrying dreams of Hollywood success, steps into a bus station. A creepy figure immediately lures the gullible blonde into a trap. However, the criminal was followed by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). O’Mara defeats the criminal and his accomplices, finds the frightened girl and says “Welcome to Los Angeles.” From the get go, Gangster Squad establishes the ‘City of Angels’ as a seedy underbelly of the 1940s and ’50s. The film is nothing but a violent-as-all-hell piece of escapism.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

Josh Brolin & Sean Penn.

The goons O’Mara took down belong to Jewish ex-boxer and powerful criminal Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). His burgeoning empire, comprised of drug trafficking, pimping and money laundering, continues to grow. With L.A. becoming the grimy centre of corruption and murder, Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) calls for the creation of a unique team of trustworthy and talented law-men. O’Mara leads the squad while battling the demons of his military service. He picks womaniser and war veteran Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), and detectives Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) for this small, blood-thirsty unit. They take down Cohen’s vicious organisation piece by piece. Cohen, however, has bigger plans and uses L.A’s corrupt cops and politicians to his advantage.

Ryan Gosling & Emma Stone.

Gangster Squad is a fun, pulpy, lurid yet empty crime flick. Girls will love Gosling’s inclusion, but this cartoonish representation of L.A’s ghastly existence lives for action and excess. It’s a punchy and breezy farce that aims to please. Unlike most gangster/crime films that spring to mind, gunfights and explosions tell the simplistic story. Tommy-Guns and tenacity are all this squad needs. Both they and the baddies obliterate every neon-lit setting with a reign of bullets. The film seeks to modernise one of Hollywood’s defining genres. Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) elevates the car chases and hand-to-hand fistfights with violence and visual flair. Fleischer never tones down the carnage, especially when a henchman is needlessly and disgustingly dispatched. The Chinatown sequence had to be created after the Aurora Cinema shooting. It still works, capturing the district’s beauty along with tension-inducing thrills. The digital cinematography occasionally distracts during many set pieces. But Gangster Squad admirably understands exactly what it is and never swerves away from that. This Dick Tracy-esque look at a classier time never ventures beyond the shallow heights of its premise. Gangster Squad is predictable and forgettable. Its cliché-ridden script, by former L.A. detective Will Beall, fails to lift the film beyond the allure of kinetic visuals and a starry cast. Its got all the gangster film clichés including horrifically over-the top antagonists, morally-driven protagonists, predictable deaths and a problematic romance. The romance between Gosling’s character and Emma Stone’s femme fatale is hard to believe and lacks the chemistry both actors created in Crazy, Stupid, Love. She looks across a crowded club and a minute later is forever in his arms. He can’t be that smooth! Can he?! Worse still is Beall’s ridiculous anecdotal dialogue.

“The whole town’s underwater. You’re grabbing a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit.” (Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Gangster Squad).

Penn as Mickey Cohen.

Without influential screenwriters like David Mamet and James Ellroy at the helm, the gritty one liners and monologues sorely lack believability.  Its enlightening thrills will hopefully inspire people to track down better material. Categorically, Gangster Squad sits uncomfortably between outrageous crime films such as Sin City and subtle character studies like The Public Enemy. It’s easy to point out several films Gangster Squad is paying homage to. The Untouchables, L.A. Confidential, ChinatownMiller’s Crossing and Public Enemies – these gangster/crime films have already revolutionised an ageing genre. Gosling and the rest of this A-list cast are charismatic in underdeveloped roles. Gosling’s performance is obviously based on some of Hollywood’s greatest leading men. His squeaky voice and mannered personality sizzle as his ‘James Cagney meets James Dean’ shtick energises. An impressive sequence is his stylish entrance into his favourite club. Walking and talking like a real cool-cat, his actions light up the screen. Brolin acts with his gruff tone and square jaw, once again displaying his engaging on-screen presence. O’Mara is the only multidimensional character, smartly questioning the moral and ethical responsibilities that come with vigilantism. Credit also goes to Penn. Penn’s excessive mannerisms and silly prosthetic make-up effects elevate the character. Much like Robert De Niro’s portrayal of Al Capone in The Untouchables, his performance stands out beyond the film’s earnestness.

In the hands of a better screenwriter, Gangster Squad could have rivalled the best film noirs of the past 20 years. It, however, becomes a series of enjoyable yet depth-less, tiresome and forgettable parts. Maybe, stick with playing L.A. Noire.

Verdict: A fun, pulpy yet shallow gangster flick.

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