Gangster Squad (2013) – Review

3 Stars


Gangster Squad is a hyper stylized throwback to the days when Paul Muni, James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson blazed across the screen throwing lead bullets from fulgent tommy guns. No, this is not Chinatown nor The Untouchables, hell it’s not even on the level of Mulholland Falls, but in its own cartoonish way Gangster Squad is memorable. This is a game attempt to take a classic film genre and reproduce it by turning up the heat, but at times director Ruben Fleischer has set the heat too high, and results in overwrought melodrama with dialogue even the great pulp noir novelist Raymond Chandler would question. Set in Los Angeles 1949, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) has returned from the war to face a new enemy, Jewish gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). A former boxer turned hood known for his homicidal rage, Cohen has successfully moved his criminal enterprise from Chicago to Los Angles, setting up an air-tight syndicate on the West coast. Sean Penn dominates the film and the role, his character is the driving force and the presence lingers even when the actor is off-screen. It’s a scenary-chewing over-the-top bit for Penn, a gifted veteran actor who should never be encouraged to go over the top in his performances.

Emma Stone is Grace Faraday, Cohen’s etiquette tutor and the love interest of Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), in case we may not recognize her as an object of desire she is the only female in the entire film that is outfitted in a vibrant red gown. Like I previously alluded to; Gangster Squad is not a film concerned with subtleties. Recruited by a militant police chief (Nick Note) and told they are all living under enemy occupation. O’Mara must assemble a squad of lawmen who have the courage to stand up and fight Cohen, instead of recruiting the most decorated detectives, and influenced by his wife, O’Mara pursues officers with troubled pasts. It’s a nice spin on the standard goodie cops who are so squeaky they shine. These are flawed men who must combat violence with increasing violence. Their agenda is not to solve cases but go to war.

This is handsome film to gaze at; gorgeous production design and set decoration are all top-notch. Since it looks like everyone involved went through such great efforts to produced this, maybe they overlooked the real problem-a screenplay that needed a rewrite. Still there was enough happening on the screen to hold my attention, and for slick shootouts and macho posturing Gangster Squad is a killer.

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Stars: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn

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