Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Review 159: "Gangster Squad"

"You might as well swear to me."
1940s Los Angeles Gangster Film

      I don't what exactly it is but I've always liked the look of the 1940s crime dramas. The glitz and glamour of Hollywoodland has always made for a great setting for a gangster story, mystery, what have you. The only real problem with these films is that Hollywood has the same fascination with them. As a result there have been so many movies with the same basic setting and the same basic story that often times most of them just get lost in the neon lit sea of fellow films. God, that sounded way too fancy for this movie. Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) and written by Will Beall (Several episodes of Castle, the reportedly terrible new Justice League script), the film follows O'Mara (Josh Brolin, W.), who is tasked with putting a team together in order to take down notorious crime boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, Milk), who how basically runs 1940s LA. He teams up with fellow officers Wooters (Ryan Gosling, Remember the Titans), who falls for Cohen's girl Grace (Emma Stone, The Help), Coleman (Anthony Mackie, Pain and Gain) who's black, Navidad (Michael Pena, World Trade Center) who's mexican, Kennard (Robert Patrick, The Men Who Stare at Goats) who's the terminator and Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi, Saving Private Ryan) who's smart. Lead by Chief Parker (Nick Nolte, Over the Hedge), the team tries to final takedown Cohen.

They remind me of something crazy and... stupid...
Cast of Cardboard

      Technically speaking, Gangster Squad doesn't do a whole lot wrong. It features a grade-A cast and they all deliver here. For the most part. Josh Brolin plays the part with a little more sensitivity than usual and his relationship with his wife (Mireille Enos, The Killing) is actually a fairly interesting source of drama... that largely goes nowhere but what can you do? Stone is really here only to look pretty, which is of course does well and even adds a little personality to a fairly one-dimensional character. The rest of the squad is fine, with Risibi playing the "moral" one without it becoming whiny and Patrick is just permanently awesome. Mackie and Pena do largely nothing other that been the black guy and the mexican guy. Gosling, however, seems to actually be underplaying the role and is just boring. In comparison  Penn is hugely overplaying Cohen and as a result we never really take him seriously, especially under some awful makeup. The problem is most of the movie's characters are as one-note as it gets despite some good performances. You know each character's purpose, lines, arcs and even their fates by just looking at the movie's posters.

Gangs of LA Confidential

      The other problem is, while like I said not bad, the story of Gangster Squad is completely by the books, sometimes even word for word with other movies of this style. Fleischer doesn't give the movie enough visual flair even though he does try and Beall shows that the only writing experience he's had is with TV writing (Usually smaller-scale and more toned down then film). Often, Gangster Squad does feel like it has some cool things to do, but then they just get finished off in another fairly interesting but not really shootout. The 1940s style is there, but it's not really all that exciting and as much as I was hoping for something pretty cool it just never really surfaced. Maybe this film was better before it was edited after the Aurora shooting, when the film was edited for a shootout that took place in a movie theater, but unless it added a subplot involving dinosaurs, I'm not sure that there is much that would make this movie more original.

Posing for their album cover.
The Verdict

      Look, if you are really interested in seeing Gangster Squad, then I won't stop you. For the usual January releases, Gangster Squad is better than most and isn't a terribly awful way to kill a few hours. But it's nothing that hasn't been done before and done better (The Untouchables comes to mind) and the cast is strong, except for a few surprising misses. Could have been cool, but instead it's just meh. Gangster Squad gets 3 and a half stars out of 6.

1 comment:

  1. Totally cheesy but great fun and I think that is all that matters. Good review Alex.