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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
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.
I saw a screening of Gangster Squad last night and to say the least, I
was unimpressed. I had decent expectations for the film with a stout
cast the likes of Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling along with a
director whose last two films I enjoyed (Zombieland and 30 Mins or
Less). So what went wrong? Like the summary says it was incredibly
cliché of every gangster movie out there and tried so hard to be like
LA Confidential and the Untouchables. While this movie would have done
much better in the 90's I don't feel it fits in this generation of
You have Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen who decides he wants to be the king of Los Angeles and he will take out whoever is in his way. Nick Nolte plays the police chief who is tired of the way LA is going and recruits hard nosed, do-as-I-please Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to create a crack team to take Cohen down. From there you have the obligatory round-up-the team where he gets the bi-focal smart guy, the past-his-prime outlaw and side kick, the token black guy, and the cop who doesn't want to join at first but is thrust into the fray.
You then have a typical hunt down the bad guy, have a couple of shoot outs where an incredible amount of bullets fly and no one gets touched, and a very flat romance where you wonder why these two are together for no other reason than they are really good looking. There were also moments in the climax of the movie where the audience burst out in laughter and I feel that it was incredibly unwarranted.
The only real redeeming quality was Sean Penn who gave an intense, powerful performance as Mickey Cohen. All in all I was disappointed in Gangster Squad and feel like the entire movie brought nothing new to the table of the gangster genre.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Greetings again from the darkness. Admittedly, I am one of those who
take movies very seriously. Good movies make me happy (even the sad
ones), and bad movies make me sulk. Every now and then, one comes along
that I find myself enjoying despite the warning buzzers blasting in my
film snob brain. Such is the latest from director Ruben Fleisher (who
also directed the entertaining Zombieland).
"Inspired by true events" should always be interpreted as a disclaimer that the movie will play fast and loose with history and the details of the story. Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen, a renowned Los Angeles gangster from the late 40's. Due to widespread police corruption, Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) authorized an "off the books" team to take down mob operations (gambling, prostitution, etc). This much was documented in Paul Lieberman's book. How this story is presented by Fleisher and screenwriter Will Beall (signed on for the Justice League movie) has more in common with a comic book than actual history.
The movie is extremely beautiful to look at. It's slick and stylish with a glamorous color palette, and the production design is top notch - capturing the look and feel of a booming Los Angeles. If you are expecting the next "L.A. Confidential" or even "The Untouchables", you will be disappointed. It's more in line with "Dick Tracy", "Scarface", and "Hoffa". In other words ... it looks great and the action, characters and dialogue are all way over the top.
The cast is superb, but most are underutilized. Josh Brolin is the tough leader of the squad that features Ryan Gosling (the token cool womanizer), Robert Patrick (the token dead-eye gunslinger), Anthony Mackie (the innercity, knife-wielding token black cop), Giovanni Ribisi (the token geeky electronics expert), and Michael Pena (the rookie and token Hispanic cop). Unfortunately, my crude descriptions are just about as in-depth as the movie goes with any of them. In fact, Yvette Tucker playing Carmen Miranda, gets almost as much screen time as any of these cops as she sings "Chica Chica Boom Chic".
The violence is cartoonish in its fervor. The aim of these gangsters is among the worst in movie history, and that's quite an accomplishment. Using Tommy Guns and pistols, my estimate is that one in every 167 shots actually hits an intended target. Many elaborate set pieces are destroyed in the process. The exception is Robert Patrick's character, who is actually featured in a detective serial. He never misses ... even after being wounded. Penn plays Cohen as a ruthless mob boss, unwilling to accept any failure from his crew. And you know what that means. No pink slips here ... just ugly death via power drill, burning elevator or classic car tug-of-war.
An interesting note is the presence of three actors from recent cult TV shows. Holt McCallany (Lights Out), Mireille Enos (The Killing) and Troy Garity (Boss) all have key roles in the film, as does Jon Polito, whose face and voice make him a must-cast in any gangster film.
If you are able to turn off the logical and reasoning part of your brain ... just sit back and enjoy Emma Stone smoking a cig while wearing a red evening gown, an understated Ryan Gosling with an odd speech pattern, Sean Penn wearing a prosthetic nose and spewing hilarious bad guy lines, and the creepy feeling that Josh Brolin is just 25 years away from looking and sounding exactly like Nick Nolte ... then hopefully you can take this one for what it is - a guilty pleasure. www.MovieReviewsFromTheDark.wordpress.com
Glossy, slick, bloody, violent, dumb, crowd-pleasing, and undeniably
entertaining. Filled with every gangster genre cliché rolled into one,
GANGSTER SQUAD ain't high art, nor is it aiming to be. It seemed as if
director Fleischer was trying to tell this story in the most fun
possible way, and he succeeds with flying colors. The film is at its
best when its loud and dumb but falters when it tries to be anything
more than that.
The cast seems like they're having fun, especially Sean Penn who has a field day with his role as the villain Mickey Cohen. The lines he's given are pure gold. Josh Brolin does a great job as the lead and Ryan Gosling is charming and charismatic as usual. However, Emma Stone is underused with a thankless role, but it's nice that she's in the film anyway. Overall, GANGSTER SQUAD is fun entertainment. No judgments, little pretense.
When it stays light and adventurous, "Gangster Squad" has its minutes
of spirited entertainment. But too often it attempts to mimic other
films while pulling back the reigns of exuberance for a much darker
approach. Zigzagging between callous seriousness one minute to comical
zaniness the next, the film offers a mishmash of tones, styles, and
gangster movie clichés. Consistency is not its strong point. By the
third time slow-motion shootouts and glamorous dames awash in billowing
cigarette smoke give way to tedious villains and brooding montages, any
sense of direction vanishes - along with the fun.
It's 1940's Los Angeles and power-hungry mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) begins a relentless quest to take over the entire city. In order to stop him, Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) tasks gung-ho Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) with creating the "Gangster Squad," a secret group of unorthodox officers who will stop at nothing to bring Cohen down. Quickly becoming as ruthless as the very thugs they're assigned to apprehend, O'Mara, Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Harris (Anthony Mackie), Kennard (Robert Patrick), Ramirez (Michael Pena), and Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) begin destroying Cohen's empire one operation at a time. But when Wooters falls for Cohen's girl Grace (Emma Stone) and the gangster discovers the identities of his adversaries, the battalion must prepare for a war that will determine the fate of the city.
"Gangster Squad" doesn't know what it wants to be. As eclectic as the colors are in the movie (though certainly not as extreme as "Dick Tracy"), so too are the continually shifting tones and styles. The end credits appear as pulpy vacation postcard illustrations (the last of the unexpected fluctuations in imagery) which sharply contrast with the initial scenes of ultra bloody violence (featuring a man being torn apart by vehicles, a la "The Hitcher," which seems like a goofy execution in the face of serious villainy), the later moments of romance, and the climactic showdown in the Plaza Hotel. It's all as hodgepodged as last year's "Lawless," continually trying to impart severity, attraction, adventure, and even comedy at different moments, but forcing the wrong emotions. Several scenes of action will likely garner eye rolls, while elements of brutality will evoke laughter unintentionally (the incredibly high rate of gunfire is hilarious in comparison to stricken targets, especially as enemies unleash machineguns against pistols and still hit nearly nothing).
Penn wants to be De Niro and Pacino simultaneously, but instead emerges ridiculous, forgetting his accent and tripping over his unnatural, obligatory mercilessness. The language, hats, coats, dresses, flasks, guns, cars, and cigarettes all bring momentary authenticity, but they're no match for the exceedingly contemporary camera angels (zooming through car windows during breakneck midnight chases), high definition slow motion, and overly apparent special effects, which take every opportunity to pluck audiences from their suspensions of disbelief to draw attention to the technical methods. There are junctures of fun, however, in the guerilla warfare tactics, battling crooked cops, assembling a dream team (not unlike "The Untouchables" or "Ocean's Eleven"), and the Wild West, loose cannon, one-liner gun show that is Robert Patrick. But O'Mara's confidence and "bull in a china shop" approach to law enforcement is frequently too generic and consummates in dead civilians, revenge attacks, and massive shootouts in which participants stand like stalwart statues in plain sight while bullets whiz around them, making contact with every prop in the background. Few viewers will be seeing these ideas for the first time.
- The Massie Twins (GoneWithTheTwins.com)
The year is 1949 and Los Angeles is being run by mob king Mickey Cohen.
Now, a secret team of detectives and cops form together to bring him
down and bring peace back to the streets.
Gangster Squad was a nice romp back to the days where detectives said funny lines, smoked indoors and held tommy guns. Here is a film that looks slick with a nice polish, a great ensemble cast and a story that has enough meat to it for us to chew on. Yet, people seem to be hating on it. Did they all expect another Untouchables? Sure, Gangster Squad has moments where the inspirations from past films peep through, but not once did this film try to be more than the sum of its means. Gangster Squad is a fun film, has thrilling moments and will entertain you.
Josh Brolin plays Sgt. John O'Mara, a tough as nails cop who is willing to put his life on the line for truth and justice. This annoys his very pregnant wife, who seems ready to pop at any moment. She takes it upon herself to help form the team he needs in order to protect him. The team involves: Anthony Mackie, an officer who is deadly with a knife, Giovanni Ribisi, a smart wire tapper, Robert Patrick, an ace with a pistol and his protégé Michael Peña whose eager to learn. The last addition to the team is the young, hot and dangerous Ryan Gosling, who seems to have found himself entangled with the mob king, Cohen's gal, played by Emma Stone.
There are obvious moments in the film where it tips its hat to predecessors like L.A. Confidential and the more obvious, The Untouchables. There is even a sequences involving a stairwell, although not as tense and more by the numbers shoot em up, the sequence is still one of the exciting pieces in the film. Both those films are more intricate with plot, characters and structure, by a mile. Gangster Squad doesn't focus on stuff like that, it wants to thrill you. Which is why some sequences in which we are suppose to care whether our characters live or die don't really pan out.
It has a graphic novel feel to it, very film noir and for those who've played L.A. Noir, will get the same sense of style. While the film looks great in a lot of sequences, that same style has some short comings, mainly the use of CGI as movement for the camera. It's the most noticeable, at least for me, in two scenes. With Josh Brolin in an elevator early on fighting two crooked guys and the second is when Ryan Gosling decides to pull his gun out in the middle of a club. The second scene in question is in slow motion and focuses mainly on his face, but the jarring background movement opposed to the steadiness of his face is just that, jarring and it takes you out of the film and makes you realize you are watching a film.
Everyone plays their roles respectively well, even if the team seems one dimensional. Sean Penn hams it up in a role that demands him to overact. The make up may distract some, but it added to the character for me. He was the one who seemed to have the most fun with his role. A lot of people scream style over substance and this may be true in some cases. I for one never went into the film expecting writing of another calibre and thus I found myself enjoying it a tad more.
There are some laughable scenes due to how cliché they are. One involves a character throwing their badge away into the water and another has the classic, character yelling another character's name as they walk away, when that person stops and turns, no one says a word. Moments like these that are played out in numerous films make me yawn and roll my eyes.
So go into Gangster Squad with an open mind, don't expect greatness, just a fun ride.
Though made for a plethora of reasons, a film need only achieve one
goal to be successful: it needs to be entertaining. Engaging
characters, good performances, and a story that is engrossing, even if
a bit cardboard or cliché. When a film ultimately fails, it is because
its characters are wooden or stereotypical, the storyline is boring,
and the only question it might raise is, "was this intended to be sleep
therapy for a study on insomnia?" Set that film in 1949 and make it
about gangsters and cops, and you've got Gangster Squad, a film so
inept that Ruben Fleischer should win an award for managing to make a
violent action movie that could put an Olympic sprinter to sleep in
Josh Brolin stars as Sgt. Something-or-other, a no-nonsense cop who is recruited by the grizzled police chief (Nick Nolte, who eats sandpaper, apparently) to stop a gangster from taking over Los Angeles. Brolin broods as the take-no-prisoners Sarge, his squad rarely referring to him by name because they probably can't remember his name either. Despite how stylized the trailers may seem, how action-packed and exciting it promises to be, this is little more than a stable of stereotypes loosed upon mid-twentieth-century Los Angeles and hoping not to bore it half to death. It becomes exhausting to try to care about what's going on in the film because the characters haven't got a shred of credibility between them; the only enjoyment comes from Robert Patrick, himself packed tightly into the stereotype of the sharpshooting old westerner.
Sean Penn's utterly ham-fisted Mickey Cohen is taken down, but who cares? The film never makes you care about the struggle against him or the city under his rule; he's ruthless, he's tough as nails, and he's every other stereotype of the evil gangster that Sean Penn could look up the day after he got cast and decided to cram into the character. Every single actor in this film has been utterly fantastic in other films; how could the ensemble be so frightfully uninteresting? The utterly versatile and likable Ryan Gosling is so bland and watered-down that he seems confused as to why he is even in the film. Emma Stone is rendered to eye candy, a crime given her considerable talents.
Yet, as contrived as the characters are, it doesn't come close to touching how terrible the script is. Penn mugs at the camera, his only character direction seemingly "sound more angry" or "be more gangster-y." The film does itself a disservice to not show Cohen's rise to power- it wants the audience to see how powerful Cohen is, but killing his own men for their ineptitude and eating a steak dinner at a fancy restaurant does nothing to imbue the fear that Mickey is supposed to represent into the script. He quite honestly seems rather harmless, and without a villain to care about, the gangster squad's mission to tackle said villain becomes even more pointless.
The real tragedy here is the fact that for two hours, there are guns firing, flashy action sequences and big period set pieces, yet none of it seems all that interesting. It needed to be longer; it needed to go deeper. Having Sarge's wife tell the audience that he'll pick duty over family is supposed to be meaningful, but the scene is unnecessary- the opening sequence with Brolin's character tells everyone that. Too much time is spent between characters needlessly talking exposition at the audience. Time better spent developing a camaraderie between the squad members is instead spent on slow-motion sequences or on Brolin's chin-set, Mickey-Cohen-is-bad speeches. If Mickey Cohen is so terrible, why doesn't a film about his downfall just show the audience that? Not to say that Gangster Squad is completely bereft of enjoyment. The period setting was very well done, with some magnificent costume and set design. It may have been senseless and boring, but at least it felt like it was boring in 1949 and wasn't really out of place. A chase sequence early on with some vintage automobiles is excellently handled, filled with some great explosive tension, figuratively and literally. The film handles most of its gunplay and action sequences quite well, it's just a shame that all the bullets are coming from guns shot by gunmen and are flying at targets that are equally vapid and meaningless. These aren't characters, they're shells, into which an actor was poured and just told to act like a single-line description from an old pulp novel about gangsters.
Despite a moment here or there of decent action, there's nothing redeemable about the entire experience that is Gangster Squad. It is empty, boring, and ultimately will leave the audience feeling... well, nothing. What should have been an excellent period film with gangsters and cops with some depth and character exploration is instead ripe with brevity, with everything thrown at the screen wrapped in a stereotype with so little substance, you can almost see through Mickey Cohen.
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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1949 Los Angeles is a city ruled by the mob. At the top of the crime
syndicates is Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a ruthless mobster involved
with murder, women and drugs. To combat Cohen, the police department
look to construct a special squad of cops who will shut down his
operations. Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) pitches the idea to honest cop
John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), who is also a happily married war veteran.
His wife gives him the idea of picking men that have little ambition
and therefore less likely to be corrupted. One of the main men to join
his squad is Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who has eyes for
Cohen's etiquette teacher Grace (Emma Stone). The other members of the
squad include Coleman (Anthony Mackie), Max (Robert Patrick), Conway
(Giovanni Ribisi) and Navidad (Michael Pena), each of whom has their
The most depressing realisation about Gangster Squad is not simply that it is the lowest form of pulp trash, but that it leaves in its wake the question of "what if?" Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) has assembled a cast that the most seasoned director would salivate over, only to show complete ineptitude towards authenticity and controlled performance registers. The only positive to be drawn from the film is that it contains some momentarily appealing photography. The rest of the film is a shambles. It's badly directed, allowing for poor performances, glossy over-stylisation, and serves no purpose other than showcasing a series of tiresome gunfights.
How did Warners Bros, who produced some of the most important gangster films ever made, let this happen? It's through no fault of the source material. The film is based on a seven day L.A. Times series by journalist Paul Lieberman, who in 2008 chronicled the real life formation of the Gangster Squad. Historical facts notwithstanding, the film is as it claims "inspired by a true story". It's the treatment of the material that fails. Discussing the film's cop-turned-writer Will Beall, Lieberman stated in an article for the Nieman Reports: "With 'The Gangster Squad,' he understood that the studio wanted to go big, with flying bullets and fists." Evidentially, someone at Warner Bros. felt this subgenre had to be modernised by removing the substance and racking up the violence.
The classic gangster films of the past were more psychological than ostentatious. Filmmakers like Howard Hawks used them as public warnings against the real life threat of gangsters and to pressure governments to take stronger action against them. The films provided cautionary tales about the way that ordinary people could be seduced the allure of power and money, raising their social status but dispersing their friends, family and moral values. Actors like James Cagney transformed the gangster figure into tragic Shakespearean characters that were physically and mentally corroded by the failure of the American Dream.
The heavy emphasis on the violence and the action in Gangster Squad lessens the opportunity for complex moral ambiguity. A character asks John late if there is a difference between the criminals and the gangster squad. It's hard to believe given the film's insistence of what a monster Cohen is, along with Penn's disappointingly monotone performance, which substitutes nuances for snarls and angry grimaces. After an opening scene where he orders someone to be drawn and quartered between two cars, there's little by way of sympathy or psychology.
Similarly, if Fleischer is interested in blurring the lines between the criminals and the police, why does he frequently romanticise their battles with adolescent techniques like slow-motion, freeze framing and careless juxtaposition? In one sequence he contrasts a raid with the Carmen Miranda song 'Chica Chica Boom Chic', as the camera crabs sideways, scanning the crew as they beat up crims. Is there any reason besides including a superficial pop reference? This is true of Fleischer's overwrought visual style, one which desperately claws for your attention, only to remain vacuous. There are pretty moments in the film, like a sumptuous wide shot of L.A.'s neon glowing nightlife and Emma Stone's first appearance in a red dress, but they're designed solely to distract you from the film's emptiness and artificiality, as these colour techniques are divorced from a theme.
The performances in this mess range between embarrassing and vapid, and in some cases, both. Brolin's character is a dull lead, the can-do officer with the beautiful home and concerned wife. I found her surprisingly more interesting but the exchanges between the pair gnaw at terrible clichés: "The war is over. Stop fighting," she tells him. When the rest of the cast is allowed to speak, and some of them aren't, they're embarrassed by laughably ornate dialogue, such as: "This is a war for the soul of Los Angeles!" and "The whole town is under water and you're using a bucket when you should be grabbing a bathing suit". Gosling is the only actor who seems aware of how silly the project is. But his performance is compromised of poses and jokey lines, so chilled that he could play Jerry in his sleep. Likewise, Emma Stone's reunion with her Zombieland director leaves her with only two things to do: smoke and look po-faced. The gangster squad itself is little more than a collection of action figurines, defined by quirks than personality, like the knife thrower, the fast shooter and the Hispanic guy.
I liked this movie more when it was called The Untouchables (1987). A tremendous cast and glamorous production design is wasted hosting loosely connected action scenes, with little substance to support them. Warner Bros. decided to delay the film six months following the Aurora shooting. Or was it because they already knew how poor the film was? Now after the events in Connecticut, how will they sell a film that's only interested in gunfire?
It's only the second release week of 2013 and already we have a strong
contender for "most inconsequential film of the year." Shot and edited
without any idea of how to make it exciting, written like what a 12-
year-old might think a tough gangster movie would sound like, and
looking surprisingly modern for a period piece that takes place in 1949
and is "inspired by true events," "Gangster Squad" is a perfect example
of mediocrity hitting the big screen.
In fact, the only interesting thing about this movie is how it came to be released in January and not in September like was originally planned. As many of you will note, the Aurora shooting spree took place, and was a tragedy. In "Gangster Squad"'s trailer, the titular squad shoots up a movie theater. Thinking that keeping that scene in would be rather tasteless, the studio pulled back the release date and re-shot portions of the film to have the big shootout take place somewhere else. They then scheduled a new release date of January 11, 2013, instead of September 7, 2012.
Perhaps it's just the cynic in me thinking this, but if the film was any good, why would it get released in January, which is the dumping ground for bad films? If the studio had faith that it was great, surely holding it back another couple of months would have been the right thing to do. My theory is that they knew this wasn't going to be anything special, or even good, so it was dumped in January, even despite its cast of stars and surprisingly large budget of $75 million.
The basic idea of "Gangster Squad" is that a group of LAPD Detectives got together and formed a team whose goal it was to stop the gangsters who threatened to take control of Los Angeles. The villain is a ruthless man named Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a former boxer who pays off anyone who gets in the way of his "business dealings," which are illegal. Nobody can touch him, everyone thinks, but since we know the film is about the titular squad, we're pretty sure that he can, at the very least, be upset, if not fully removed from the equation.
The gang: John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), a family man and our protagonist/narrator; Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), a ladies' man and nothing more; Rocky Washington (Anthony Mackie), someone who really hates heroin; Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), the fastest draw in the Wild West -- seriously, he sounds like he's from the 1840s, not the 1940s; Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) a rookie cop nobody takes seriously because he's Mexican; and Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), another family man and the one tasked with listening in to a bugged television set.
Does that not seem like some sort of dream cast? Throw in Nick Nolte as the police chief who orders John to do this and Emma Stone as the love interest for one or possibly more of the characters, and you're talking quite a strong group of actors. It's just a shame they had to go and make this, such a lifeless, bland, uninspired movie. Did we really need a soft-remake of "The Untouchables"? That's really what "Gangster Squad" feels like.
Much of the problem comes from the director, Ruben Fleischer, whose previous feature-length work is made up entirely of comedies. He did "Zombieland," which was a lot of fun, and "30 Minutes or Less," which was not. He does manage to inject "Gangster Squad" with some genuinely funny moments -- the best of which involved a knockout blow which failed in its target; you rarely see that in non-comedies at the cinema -- but most of the time he feels completely wrong for this material. He doesn't seem to "get" the feel of this type of movie.
There is no depth to any of the characters. The dialogue is so cheesy and unfitting that it feels like it was written by someone who maybe watch a gangster film once in high school and is trying to remember what the characters sounded like, there's more slow motion than in a Zack Snyder movie, but used without any purpose. Seriously, there's a shootout late in the movie that is done entirely in slow motion and it accomplishes nothing -- especially when you know that none of the main characters will die.
Despite the overuse of slow motion, the action scenes are still cut together in such a way so as to not allow you any idea of who's doing what to whom at any given moment. There's even a car fight, but since all of the characters look similar and the cars are the same models, you never know what's going on. The same is true of the fist fights -- the climax is one, which is to be expected, and is the only decent action in the entire film -- and many of the shootouts.
There's nothing to "Gangster Squad." Under the gangster movie surface, it's an empty, hollow movie, and there's absolutely no reason to watch it. You trudge through it, hoping the payoff will be worth the almost two hours of your life that it takes to finish -- and it feels a lot longer than that -- and you won't get that. "The Untouchables" exists so this film doesn't have to. It has an attractive cast and some touches of humor, but "Gangster Squad" is a cheap knockoff of one of what used to be one of the most reliable genres around.
This movie has everything you could ask for, in an action-packed
emotional thrill ride, provided that you are able to just let go, and
let yourself to be engrossed. For those who prefer films that may have
a little less predictability, or people that find themselves unable to
maintain the "suspension of disbelief", this movie would be
understandably less enjoyable.
Right alongside moments that range from somewhat cringe-worthy, to positively grisly, there are enough instances of justice, and pleasant surprises to cause powerful feel-good moments just shortly after even the darkest of situations. I personally felt a constant paralyzing tension keeping me glued to my seat in the theater throughout the entire movie, and couldn't bring myself to leave and go to the bathroom.
The cast and their acting is just about flawless, (though admittedly a bit cliché at times), and the sets and cinematography are superb. Sean Penn is positively frightening, and shines in his role as the villain, while Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling perfectly portray the face of their vigilante-style band of misfits; The Gangster Squad.
If you are familiar with the story that this movie is loosely based from, you may be disappointed by the fact that it is QUITE loosely based indeed. I feel that this makes is a likable, albeit somewhat predictable movie, but others who expect it to stick with the "real story" may not find it as enjoyable, despite the overall positive tone that the new adaption allows.
Though the reviews seem to be a horse-a-piece, I recommend seeing it and judging for yourself, because it truly is an interesting thrill ride that will have you rooting for the good guys, tearing up from time to time, and cringing at the evil that Sean Penn is able to embody in an absolutely brilliant and stylish movie about good guys doing wrong to take down bad guys doing worse.
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