Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena
Running Time: 1 hr 53 mins
Release Date: January 11, 2013
PLOT: A group of policemen in Los Angeles are hired to take down mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) without using their badges.
WHO’S IT FOR? If you’re looking for some dumb action fun amidst a heavy time of Oscar overload, Gangster Squad is your answer. Serious enthusiasts of classic gangster movies will likely find this to be disappointing, if not appalling.
EXPECTATIONS: Director Ruben Fleischer previously did Zombieland, which was a zippy hit. But then he followed that up with 30 Minutes or Less, that really odd dark comedy that didn’t have so much laughs as it did an uncomfortable storyline. That being said, I was very curious as to what he’d do with this cast, and a movie of this size: a gangster movie with Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn has to be some type of gold, right?
Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O’Mara: In a movie of loony characters, Brolin is the “straight man,” the fun-sucker who would tank this story if the film were entirely focused on his character. More than anything, he is a good tool to planting the essentially sarcastic “serious plot” of the movie, and allows others to take over. This is one that is best as a supporting role, than the guy we actually want to follow around, etc.
Ryan Gosling as Sgt. Jerry Wooters: Good ol’ Gosling returns to a sweeter stature, this action character more reminiscent of his boyish masculinity from budding “Mickey Mouse Club” skits than his hammer grippin’ in Drive. His voice is higher than usual, his gaze a little more spacey, and its a good fit for this movie. Like Penn’s Dick Tracy-like villain face makeup, it’s a goofy coloring that makes Gangster Squad stand out just a few centimeters more.
Emma Stone as Grace Faraday: Stone’s charisma is necessary for this role, which stays afloat because she can play it like it’s special. As a woman caught between a good guy and a bad guy, Stone is able to persevere as an archetype.
Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen: Sean Penn is one loud, easy target to pick on I admit, but both he and I have some dark fun with this character. It’s not the most original villain (if at all), but Penn plays him like he’s trying to evoke previous great gangsters. Instead, he ends up with his own version of such, a villain thoroughly Sean Penn, but also one borne from cliches. Still, the bits of ferocity that Penn brings to this role do make this lead villain not one to laugh off.
TALKING: Dialogue fills in between shootouts and hat-wearing; the most resonant piece of dialogue comes from Cohen’s impression of the Manifest Destiny, in which he takes it as a personal mission: “Los Angeles is MY Manifest Destiny!” There are hints of a darker story about stardom in the film, at least with Faraday’s nickel store line, “I came out here to be a star.”
SIGHTS: For a film set in the mid 1950’s, the set design certainly captures the look of the era. Fleischer’s camera is well aware of this, so there are a few slick shots in which long takes bask in the consistent detail. There’s less slickness in a car chase scene, however, a messy moment of CGI and studio work – this sequence should have at least rolled over and played full phony, instead of looking like an unnatural piece of botched reality.
SOUNDS: Placing Gangster Squad in a contemporary mindset, the score of the film is run-of-the-mill typical action accompaniment seen in any modern day movie. To add a little retro feel, the Gangster Squad soundtrack picks from a grab bag of old tunes, like “Ole Buttermilk Sky” or “A Little Bird Told Me.”
BEST SCENE: It essentially turns this movie into a video game, but the third act shootout provides the bang bang spectacle one wants from a movie exactly like Gangster Squad.
QUESTIONS: Is there more of the Los Angeles atmosphere in earlier cuts? Did the reshoots of this film greatly effect the arc, or just the third act?
REWATCHABILITY: Gangster Squad is the kind of simple entertainment that should carry over in a second viewing. Albeit, one on video.
Aside from the sort of generic title Gangster Squad, this film could also be titled after some people’s reactions to a movie that is just fine, and harmlessly dumb – “I Mean, It’s Not Gonna Win Any Awards or Anything …”. And this isn’t just fine ol’, non-award movie, Gangster Squad specifically goes out of its way to distance itself from winning awards, or anything.
You see, Zero Dark Thirty pulled a sneaky one by planning its wide release the day after Oscar nominations were to be announced. (Sneaky, and maybe a bit cocky). However, that isn’t the only film that made use of the date, as here is Gangster Squad, the Gatorade and sleeping-in of award season hype hyperdrive hoopla bonanza, a mindless genre movie made to be as thoroughly a piece of Hollywood as possible, while gleefully having no chance of winning any type of award. Well, except maybe for MTV Movie Award “Best Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone Movie.”
A boisterous love letter to Los Angeles, Gangster Squad makes it pretty clear from the very beginning that it’s not going to treat its genre with a special sense of history. Like what Steven Soderbergh’s The Good German did for Michael Curtiz films, Gangster Squad revels in its ability to challenge a cleaner cinematic image of gangster violence with more R-rated content. This is a modern action movie set in the mid 1900’s, and with the largest costume design attribute being the wearing of hats. Gangster Squad provides violence much more relatable to contemporary shoot-em-ups than the actual gangster films whose initial inspiration may have been lost in the fray. It’s a movie that soaks up the gangster genre for its more mindful thrills, and with a story about group of cops fighting fire with more gunfire. This ain’t Public Enemy. And this absolutely is not and never will be L.A. Confidential.
Gangster Squad might be kind of dumb, but it is hip to what makes an undoubtedly Hollywood experience. If you’re gonna go Tinseltown, you might as well make it count; push the logical limits of action scenes until they are no more, make explosions laughably big, treat a “true story” like another freaking superhero movie, cast Sean Penn, and toss Gosling and Stone back together for their automatic chemistry. All of this and more is thrown into Gangster Squad, and with a very direct concept. Hell, the action scenes can be so generic they’re almost meditative. Smart movies like Zero Dark Thirty might think they the whole movie consciousness game on lock at the moment, but no, here comes bumbling in Gangster Squad, shooting its tommy gun in the air and then pooping its pants Al Roker style.
Forget about last week’s Texas Chainsaw 3D; it’s a new year, and the movies are back. So here’s Gangster Squad. And if you don’t like it, then just wait another week or so.
FINAL SCORE: 5/10