It’s 1940s Los Angels and the streets are mean. Mob boss Mickey Cohen is progressively taking over the city, and he won’t stop until he has it all. Enter, the Gangster Squad. Review after the jump.
In the streets of 1940s-1950s Los Angels , one man’s name is enough to strike fear into the hearts and souls of the residents. That man is Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a mobster of the traditional variety, who likes his women beautiful and his enemies dead. He is building a powerful empire based on drugs, gambling and prostitution, that threatens to overwhelm not only the city, but the state.
Enter, the gangster squad. A group of police recruited to do some very dirty and off the books business. The police [along with other authority figures] are for the most part are in Mickey’s pocket, but the police chef (Nick Nolte) isn’t, and he has had enough. He recruits decorated former solder Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to assemble a group a men who have the sole job of taking down his Mickey’s empire, at whatever the cost. The group numbers 6 men, with a charismatic ex solder who has a seedier side (Ryan Gosling), and a super-intelligent family man (Giovanni Ribsi) among them. They don’t wear badges and they are forbidden to identify themselves as officers. This is war, and in war things get dirty, and people get hurt.
The film sets itself up as a gritty crime-noir drama with high stakes and big shoot-outs, and it has elements like a stellar cast and amazing costumes, which give you false hope that it will be something great. Sadly this film is little more than a series of poorly directed action set pieces strung together which cringe-worthy, cliché-layered dialogue and Ryan Gosling being charming as hell.
The film is structured as a series of missions to bring down certain aspects of Mickey’s business. Firstly there is some planning which includes “inspirational” speeches and flashes of children or a pregnant wife to show you what is at stake. This is followed by a badly shot shoot-out with lots of noise and horrific editing (it’s almost like a flip book). Finally the men re-group, have a moment, and then they repeat this sequence of events several times until the final showdown. The repetitive nature of the film becomes apparent very early on, and as such it doesn’t take long to both tire of it, and predict what is coming next.
In a sub-standard film it is often the performances which give it a lift, but unfortunately the only actor that seems to try here is Ryan Gosling. Yes I know I’m bias, but he’s honestly the only on-screen presence which has any spark – almost every laugh and every bright moment features Gosling and his bucket-loads of charisma. Penn is fine, but his character is so terrible (straight from the book of mobster villains) that nothing could save him. The fantastic Michael Peña is horribly underutilised; as is Emma Stone, who is quite simply playing ‘the woman in the red dress’ – she is the distraction and nothing more.
What Gangster Squad wants to be is violent, edgy and thrilling. In reality Gangster Squad is a predictable and boring, almost cartoonish mob flick, which completely wastes both the talents of its cast and the audience’s time.
By Sam McCosh
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer(s): Will Beall, Paul Lieberman (book)
Starring: Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Emma Stone
Runtime: 113 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: January 10 2013; New Zealand: January 17 2013; USA: January 11 2013