Gangster Squad Review

Film Still
  • Gangster Squad film still


Both excessive and simplistic, Ruben Fleischer's hyper-styled cops-'n'-robbers yarn crudely squanders its amazing potential.

On paper Gangster Squad reads 'unfuckupable'. It boasts a talented director, a shit-hot cast and has been adapted (albeit loosely) from a non-fiction novel by real-life-LA-lawman-turned-screenwriter Will Beall. And yet despite tipping its Fedora to every LA noir from Double Indemnity to L.A. Confidential, this cops and mobsters tale never threatens to be anything more than a derivative addition to the genre.

In fact this film is more closely related to The Untouchables than any LA-based crime-drama, opening as it does with a formal introduction to a public enemy with a penchant for brutality. His name is Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, snarling his way through six layers of Silly Putty prosthetics), the gargoyle-like East Coast crook who dared to play god(father) in the City of Angels in the late 1940s and early '50s. He's a rotter to the core whose vast empire-apparent is dwarfed by his over-inflated ego.

This city is Cohen's self-prophesied destiny, but he's not about to take it without a fight. Standing in his way is John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), an incorruptible paragon of virtue who's tasked with assembling a covert team of LAPD second-stringers to sabotage Cohen's operation and rescue order from organised chaos.

Playing Sundance to Brolin's Butch is Ryan Gosling, not quite his usual charming self as the cocksure sergeant who's more interested in getting his tip wet than taking down bad guys. Top of his hit list is ruby-lipped slice Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), a character so redundant she's barely worth mentioning. (Although it is notable and somewhat ironic that in a film that desperately wants to look cool and sexy, its two hottest stars should fail to rekindle their sizzling chemistry from Crazy, Stupid, Love.)

Director Ruben Fleischer delighted audiences with his offbeat genre-mashing debut, Zombieland, yet in trying his hand at a more conservative brand of action cinema he's succeeded only in stringing together a chain of pulp clichés and cut-and-paste characters: The tough-talking sarge who doesn't know when he's beat; the wily old-timer who's good for one last job before retirement; the tech nerd who's sidelined as soon as the real men start playing rough; the cartoon villain with the chip on his shoulder… The list goes on.

Regrettably the film's major talking point remains the now infamous movie theatre shooting sequence that was promptly cut in the wake of the 2012 tragedy in Aurora, Colorado. Regardless of whether you consider that a kneejerk reaction or a sincere gesture of respect to the victims, it's ludicrous that so much attention has been paid to one purportedly ultra violent scene when there are so many instances of excess and gratuity in the final edit.

This is a film devoid of soul and detached from its true-crime roots, one that deals almost exclusively in male fantasy and glorified quasi-vigilante justice. It's even bookended by an excruciatingly trite monologue about how every man wears a badge. There's pertinent subtext concerning post-war America and how not all men found peace once the fighting stopped. It's just a shame you have to sift through so much studio gloss and alpha male phlegm to find it.

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