In post war LA, a special squad of cops is formed to work outside the remit of the LAPD to bring down uber-gangster Mickey Cohen.Gangster Squad
is the latest from director Ruben Fleischer
– the man behind the enjoyable Zombieland
and forgettable 30 Minutes or Less
. With a bigger budget and an impressive roster of stars, there’s certainly lots of potential in the piece for period entertainment.
The story comes from a series of articles by journalist Paul Lieberman
which appeared in the LA Times back in 2008. From extensive research, including interviews with surviving members of this special team, Lieberman created a narrative around the reality of the war on organised crime – peppered with heroes and villains and larger than life events.
The script was fashioned by TV writer Will Beall
(who is also working on Justice League
and a Lethal Weapon
reboot) as an exercise in pure pulp – with plenty of onscreen violence, lurid production design and an approach to dialogue which leans heavily on heroic speeches and terms familiar from other gangster movies.
With the cast on offer, an interesting period premise and stylish visuals, I was fully prepared to have a lot of fun with Gangster Squad
. And yet I stumbled from the theatre baffled, brow-beaten and more than a little bored.
It’s all the more strange because individual moments can be quite entertaining. There are touches of effective humour, particularly as the group comes together and plenty of energy in the action packed montages as their violent investigation heats up. And though the set pieces are limited they’re slickly presented, with some moments recalling Fleischer’s strong use of slow motion in Zombieland
and a good mix of fisticuffs and some surprisingly violent ballistic exchanges.
But problems dog the picture at every turn. Like the decision to make every character speak solely in crime movie cliché, stripping any interest from the scenes. You’ll often be able to predict an entire exchange before it happens, while our protagonists pop up to say something heroic every couple of minutes to remind us just how awesome they are. Some, like the next to silent Josh
n emerge relatively unscathed with poor Mireille Enos
stuck with some of the worst lines I’ve ever heard.
Then there’s the look of the film which takes elements of LA in the 40s and 50s and gives them a fantasy make over that makes everything feel unreal and inconsequential. Locations have the too-clean look of a set, with gleaming neon and impeccable tailoring. Most jarring of all is the eradicated pall of cigarette smoke, with only a few token puffs taken to keep the lobbyists happy. Add in the frequent use of CG, even to create a car chase and add bullet holes to scenes, and everything starts to feel hopelessly antiseptic.
These issues would be more forgivable if the story or characters were more engaging but the first is predictable to a fault (not to mention surprisingly easy) while the large cast means no one really gets to distinguish themselves. Brolin
is fine, with a jawline which suits the period perfectly, and Sean Penn
is at least memorable – though his characterisation of Mickey Cohen often has more in common with a stroppy teenager.Gosling’s
performance is a strange one, with the actor choosing an oddly nasal tone and mannerisms which are almost irritating. And it’s his tacked on romance with Crazy, Stupid, Love
co-star Emma Stone
which helps to kill the pace of the piece. We’re given no reason to care about this couple, not to mention little real understanding of why they got together in the first place.Gangster Squad
is sadly a mess of a picture, trying so hard to evoke the mood of the period and genre that it loses sight of its story and forgets to craft any worthwhile characters. The action is watchable and the visuals attractive but the experience is ultimately dull and forgettable.