Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad photo starrating-2andahalfstars.jpgIt’s Los Angeles in 1949. Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is an officer that operates outside the law. But don’t get the wrong idea. He’s a good guy, an honest cop. He merely acts illegally in order to serve justice every now and then. That’s especially true when it comes to apprehending Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), an infamous hoodlum that has become the most powerful figure in the Jewish mafia. His rise is unstoppable due in part to controlling the majority of law enforcement with bribes. O’Mara is placed in charge of a special police unit devoted to putting an end to Cohen’s reign in the criminal underworld. The gangster squad is an elite team of incorruptible cops, but it’s obviously an opportunity to hire a lot of acting talent as well: Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña and Robert Patrick comprise this noble team. They talk and act like stock characters (the black guy, the nerd, the Mexican, the old guy) from 2013 traveled back in time. Oh and what would any period detective drama be without a sexy dame so Emma Stone is on hand as the notorious mobster’s girl, who falls for Ryan Gosling (natch) because, uh well he lit her cigarette in a nightclub of course.

Gangster Squad has all the depth of a rain puddle. There’s no denying that it looks incredible. 1940s Los Angeles is recreated with stylish color and finesse. The production design is first rate and if that were all that mattered, this movie would earn 5 stars. However the narrative unfolds like a two-bit crime thriller. Given Sean Penn’s ugly prosthetics and accent he seems to be channeling Al Pacino in Dick Tracy. In fact I thought of Dick Tracy on more than one occasion while watching this. Warren Beatty’s far superior film was based on a comic book so its two dimensional facade worked in its favor. Here the artificiality works against the story. Sadly, the writing is hopelessly laughable. I frequently chuckled at dialogue that in retrospect was clearly meant to be serious. My favorite is when Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) looks up from a newspaper with a huge headline in bold type calling for the police chiefs resignation and then loudly announcing “They’re calling for my resignation!“ You don’t say?! Oh and count how many times a character breaks/throws something in a fit of rage. If renting with friends at home, the number of occurrences would make a great drinking game. On second thought, that’s a better idea. Just wait for the DVD/Blu-ray. Spending $10 to view this in a theater would be a crime.

23 Responses to “Gangster Squad”

  1. Seems like I enjoyed this one a little more than others did.


  2. Haha I love your review! And your last line especially!

    I’ll skip this one. At one point, I thought, maybe, considering the talent. But it seems even they are wasting their time.


  3. Good review Mark. It’s a dumb movie, but still a pretty fun movie and I think that’s all that matters.


  4. Glad I missed it. Previews looked pretty bad anyway.


    • Oh the previews were selling a completely different film. That Jay-Z song blasting throughout the trailer doesn’t show up anywhere in the film. Neither do half the lines heard.


  5. “Gangster Squad has all the depth of a rain puddle.” That made me laugh. Great review.


    • Thanks! This was actually based on a respected non-fiction book of the same title by Paul Lieberman. I partially blame screenwriter Will Beall for turning it into this.


  6. I think on the whole we had the same reaction to this movie, all the elements apart from the script are there, and the direction is just lacking. As you’ve said I had the same reaction where I didn’t hate it, just found it extremely weak as a cinematic experience, as you already know since you commented on my review ( if anyone else if interested).

    I did think that the final action set-piece at the end made for a satisfying end to the story, but the journey there was a stretch. I’m wondering what was changed with the re-shoots due to the Dark Knight Rises shootings of last year, and suspect it’s the small stakeout scene in Chinatown that was changed, but even if this hadn’t happened, it wouldn’t have made up for the rest of the movie.


    • You’re right.

      Originally there was a key action sequence with mobsters bursting through the screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood with guns blazing. The action continued in the lobby and courtyard and spilled onto Hollywood Boulevard.

      After the Aurora movie theater shooting, re-shoots relocated the action sequence to L.A.’s Chinatown and the release date changed from Sept. 7 to Jan. 11.

      As you mention, the climax was the least of this film’s problems.


  7. I agree it lacks depth, but I enjoyed it a lot. It looked beautiful and really kept me entertained. And sometimes that’s all I need!


  8. I was hoping for something like Mulholland Falls or LA Confidential, but unfortunately Gangster Squad is neither a clever whodunit nor solid film noir. It’s a modern action flick stuck in a period piece. The best description I could think of was “The Untouchables” on steroids. If you don’t take it seriously and look past its historical inaccuracies, it can be a fun film. I enjoyed the camaraderie between the guys in the squad and the action sequences despite their ridiculous nature. I definitely agree with the comparison of Sean Penn to Al Pacino in Dick Tracy. That’s a much better movie. Gangster Squad is a breezy film that will be quickly forgotten.


  9. “Gangster Squad has all the depth of a rain puddle” –loved that line!

    haha, yep, you and I are pretty much in alignment on this disappointment. Fun review.


  10. GaryLee828 Says:

    After watching “Drive” and learning of Ryan Gosling in this I was looking forward to it…and then I saw the trailer. lol. It just looked very dull. And Emma stone as a sex kitten is hard to swallow. She just doesn’t project sexiness. I skipped this one. The only thing I disagree with you about is waiting for the DVD. Why would I wait for a DVD of a mediocre film? There are plenty of quality movies out there to waste my time with drivel whether it be at the theater, or at home. 🙂


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