It's 1949 Los Angeles, and gangster Mickey Cohen has moved in, with the intention of controlling all criminal activity in the city. He has bought local judges and police, and no one is willing to cross him or testify against him. Everyone except Seargant John O'Mara, a former World War II soldier, whose goal is to settle with his family in a peaceful Los Angeles. Police Chief William Parker decides to form a special unit whose mission is to take down Cohen, and chooses O'Mara to lead the unit. O'Mara chooses 4 cops and asks another cop and vet, Jerry Wooters to join him but Wooters is not interested. But when he witnesses the murder of a young boy by Cohen's people, he joins them, and they decide to take apart Cohen's organization. Cohen wonders if a rival is going after him, but eventually he realizes it's the cops. Written by
Originally intended for release in September of 2012, Gangster Squad has belatedly hit theatres this week. The film follows the story of LA crime boss Mickey Cohen and a group of off-the-book beat cops to bring him down. "Based" on a true story (What movie isn't these days?) the film and its fantastic cast promise much but come across as bland and boring.
Set in Los Angeles in the 50's, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a crime lord who has taken over and there seems to be nobody who can stop him. The few good cops are outnumbered by the cops Cohen has bought and it seems all hope is lost. But Police Chief Nick Nolte decides something needs to be done and assigns good, hard cop Josh Brolin to put together a team to go after Cohen. What follows is the assembling of a team of not-so- perfect cops and the war they wage on Cohen's empire.
Sound familiar? That's because we've all already seen this movie, only done much better. You can tick the cliché's off as you watch. Good cop being grilled by his dirty cop superior? Check. Older tougher cop and his young protégé? Check. Evil henchman of the chief bad guy? Check. The list could go on but would approach spoiler territory. The climax of the film is somewhat predictable about half way through. You can foresee almost all of the events that will play out in the last 20 minutes and while it's enjoyable enough, it's nothing you haven't seen before.
The cast is a who's who list of names. Which makes the film all the more disappointing. With names like Brolin, Gosling, Penn and Stone they should blow you away. But the characters are nothing more than caricatures and nobody gets the chance to portray any real depth, with the possible exception of Giovanni Ribsi. Sean Penn looks bizarre in a mountain of makeup, although it matches his completely over the top performance. Ryan Gosling turns in a nicely subtle performance, but most of the rest of the cast are stuck in cardboard cut out roles with individual stories set on railway tracks. We all know where they're going to go, we just have to wait for them to get there.
Also worth mentioning in the reason for the delay in the film's release. Originally the film was to be released in September 2012, but then the Aurora shooting took place. At that time one of the key set pieces of the film was a scene in which the characters shoot at people from behind a movie screen in a theatre. Realising how disastrously that would be received in the wake of Aurora, the studio immediately suspended promotion for the film and set about reworking that scene. The cast re- assembled in August to reshoot the sequence, now taking place in Chinatown.
Something I liked: Robert Patrick's performance as the grizzled older gunslinger. As a Terminator 2 fan it was great to see him still taking out people almost at will.
Something I didn't like: The predictable climax. At the 60 minute mark I mentally made a list of things I thought would happen in the last 20 or so minutes of the film. Of my list of about 6 things, 5 of them happened exactly as I predicted.
Something that bugged me: The scenes with Josh Brolin and Nick Nolte seemed to be shot out of focus. It was particularly noticeable in the shots of Nolte. For a film with a budget of $75M, this just shouldn't happen.
Summary: Ultimately Gangster Squad is an enjoyable enough 100 minutes but isn't anything significant. There's no great performances, no spectacular set pieces nor any big moments that you'll go home talking about. For the ladies there's an ample amount of eye candy in the form of a suited and fedora-d Ryan Gosling, and for the gentlemen there's Emma Stone and a no-nonsense Robert Patrick. But the story fails to ever really leap off the page and become something. We're told Mickey Cohen is bad, but he's never anything more than "that bad guy". We don't hate him, we don't sympathise with him or desperately want him to be taken down. He's just "the bad guy". The same can be said for all of the characters, and the story as a whole. Which makes it on the whole, ultimately forgettable.
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