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Massive film fan, and first year History student.

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Sunday, 27 January 2013

Gangster Squad Review

An all-star cast. A promising premise. An average film. 

Gangster squad is enjoyable, but it is merely Hollywood fodder masquerading as a film noir

Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less director, Ruben Fleischer brings us his third film in the form of this action-crime film, Gangster Squad. Gangster Squad may well have been released at the wrong time, coming up against all of this years Oscar and awards season hopefuls including Les Miserables, Django Unchained, Lincoln and Zero Dark Thirty, you don't think it would stand much of a chance at the box office over the next few weeks.

Yet it does boast a superb cast, including Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Michael Pena, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Patrick, the star power of the film will surely bring in more than a few cinema goers. While its advertising campaign, although misleading, has been successful in marketing it as a cool, smart film noir, yet this mobster movie is not nearly as exciting as advertised. While Gangster Squad is enjoyable and action packed, that's all it is, it's an easily forgettable film, and with such a powerful cast at its disposable with such limited results, this surely renders the film a disappointment. 

LA gangster and former boxer Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) has a strangle hold on the City of Angles, he owns the city, the police and the politicians, all the while importing drugs and prostitutes to finance his takeover of not just LA but the whole of the west coast. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) is the lone rouge cop, hoping to stop Mickey's gang on his own but encounters problems with the city's rigged and corrupt judiciary system which allows Mickey's gang members to roam free. However, the Chief of Police, Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) wants to turn the city around, and hires the brash O'Mara to get a team together to take down Cohen. This underground team are to make no arrests, they are vigilantes and are take down the city's gangsters by all means necessary.

O'Mara brings together a team of Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), a tough detective, cowboy Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and finally the brain of the group, Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi). Ryan Gosling's Jerry Wooters at first declines the offer to join the operation, but after seeing an innocent friend shot, becomes motivated to take down Coen and join the team. Wooters doesn't make the task easy though, falling in love with Cohen's girlfriend, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), compromising the whole mission. Yet Faraday becomes an asset as she offers some information on Cohen and eventually testifies in court against the mob boss. The battle for Los Angeles isn't easy, and the film's finale comes down to a bare knuckled punching match between O'Mara and Cohen, with Cohen eventually getting his just deserts. 

The one major flaw Gangster Squad suffers from is the total lack of depth or development from any of the major characters. The lack of depth in characters such as Pena's Navidad and Patrick's Kennard got to the point where we simply did not care about them, even when Kennard died in what was an overly emotional scene. I'd go as far as saying that Pena's Navidad was a totally unnecessary character, he added nothing to the story and didn't do anything significant, thinking back I don't even believe he had that many lines despite misleadingly appearing as an important member of the Gangster Squad. Emma Stone's Faraday, despite playing the part well, again suffered from a lack of development, there was no history to the character, and there was never any development in her character's relationship with Gosling's Wooters, one minute they meet, the next they're in love. Fleischer also kills off not only one of the most likeable characters, but also one of the most interesting in Ribisi's Keeler, the character doesn't even get much of a death especially in comparison to the boring Kennard. 

As much as I love Ryan Gosling, I do think he's a superb actor and 2013 could very much be his year, but Gangster Squad may be one to leave off the CV. Gosling could have played Wooters with much more variety, I can't remember the last time I didn't see him play a quiet, emotionally torn playboy who has a taste for danger. This brooding and mysterious nature he seems to constantly play with has begun to get annoying. At least Wooters had a good story arc, and Gosling was decent in some scenes. One of the film's only highlights was Brolin's performance as O'Mara. I'm constantly finding that Brolin is one of the most under utilised actors in the film industry, his portrayal of O'Mara is great, he's stern yet respectful, a hot head cop but also a caring family man. The final fight scene is Brolin at his best, the anger he unleashes at Cohen is brutal, and thankfully his character is presented with a decent and interesting past as well as having a good story arc, as he is forced to face his inner demons over his allegiance to the law and the love for his wife (Mireille Enos) with a baby on the way. 

In the trailers for Gangster Squad I was more than excited about Penn's portrayal of Cohen, with the extensive facial make up, he was unrecognisable and with Penn's experience and track record, I was expecting big things. But Penn's performance merely felt like a parody of Mickey Cohen, as if he was mimicking a version of the real life violent gangster. His accent sounded superficial and at times his make up was similar to a melting candle. I suppose one of the only things he got right was portraying Cohen as an angry, shouty little man, I think Cohen was supposed to be seen as a coward as opposed to a frightening mob boss. It was very much a lack lustre performance from Sean Penn. 

Visually, I have to admit the film looked great. From the costumes to the sets, Fleischer at least managed to create a glitzy, jazzy and stylish 1949 Los Angeles, the soundtrack was also spot on. In similar scenes to Zombieland, Fleischer used slow mo to his advantage, particularly in the scene when the Gangster squad infiltrated and smashed up some of Cohen's underground gambling rings, set to the sound of some vibrant 40s jazz, these scenes looked as colourful as they were ice cool. 

Gangster Squad is a let down, if like me you were expecting something a little smarter, a little better acted and much grittier, then you will be disappointed. But the film does succeed as an action film, there are thrills and explosions galore, but not much else. If you want to give your hard earned £8 to a film this January, don't go for the shallow Gangster Squad, there's much better out there this month. 2.5/5 


  1. I was really expecting much more from this film, but it is a good movie, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that the weak direction and a predictable plot was really disappointing. Great review Will.

    1. It's the kind of movie i'd rent and not want to get to involved in, that isn't; a bad thing, I just expected a lot more with such a stellar cast. Thanks for the comment!