Movie review: Gangster Squad
Considering how popular gangster films used to be, with the genre making stars of the likes of James Cagney and Edward G. Robinson, it's both surprising and disappointing that not more films are set during the thirties and forties.
But with TV's Boardwalk Empire and now this, perhaps the retro gangster flick is enjoying something of gun-rattling renaissance.
Hollywoodland during the forties was a magnet for young actors and starlets looking for fame. At the same time ex-boxer Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) was making a name for himself in another way, as LA's biggest crime boss.
Cohen's criminal activities grew at such a rate that he soon became untouchable in the City of Angels, so much so that law enforcement couldn't stop him.
With the city seemingly under Cohen's control LAPD Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) decides that the only way to take control is to fight fire with fire. He gives Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), a cop with a reputation for bending the law to get the job done, the job of recruiting a group of like-minded men with the task of bringing Cohen and his crime ring down.
Parker gives this squad the permission to operate outside of the law if need be, but it comes at a price –they can't be associated with the LAPD in anyway and so therefore are on their own.
O'Mara then sets about getting the ultimate team together, to tackle Cohen once and for all. They soon discover however, that there's a reason why Cohen's biggest gangster in LA.
Gangster Squad certainly comes out with all guns blazing. It has one of the manliest casts in recent years, and even Ryan Gosling's sharply-dressed, ladies man character knows how to use a gun. Brolin truly packs a punch as the square-jawed cop protagonist; his O'Mara is larger than life, who's just as happy to let his fists do the talking as well as his gun.
Emma Stone initially shines as the femme fatale of the piece, but sadly her role soon deteriorates into clichéd, stereotypical territory.
Penn, looking like a heavy from Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy, pours it on thick as mobster Cohen – possibly too thick. It's a thin line between character and caricature and Penn crosses it on numerous occasions.
Despite some truly stunning art direction that helps anchor the story in a vibrant time and place, the story is just a little overly familiar. With a premise of a group of men being recruited to bring down an evil baddie, it would have been more appropriate for the film to be called Generic Squad. Sadly all the films it borrows from – including the obvious one of De Palma's The Untouchables - just did a better job all round.
The script certainly lets the film down, lacking the kind of sharp-witted dialogue it clearly needed. The characters are developed, to a certain extent, but lack any real personality.
Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland, 30 Minutes or Less) proves once again that he can shoot some startling visuals, as well as knowing his way around set pieces, so it's disappointing that the script failed to light up the screen in quite the same way as his cinematography does.
There's a pleasing rat-a-tat-tat pace to proceedings, that's let down from not quite always hitting the target.
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