Gangster Squad has lofty ambitions to create an iconic 50s crime epic ala The Untouchables or L.A Confidential. However,poor aesthetic choices, dull scripting and a myriad of underdeveloped characters and storylines hinder director Ruben Fleischer’s trip back to the good old days of Los Angeles crime.
When the tyrannical East Coast mobster Micky Cohen (Sean Penn) invades Los Angeles a desperate Police Captain (Nick Nolte) constructs a vigilante crew (Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick) to take the fight to the mob, without the shackles of a badge.
Gosling brings the James Cagney-esque high voice to his unfairly good looking and tremendously charming, nihilistic cop who ultimately has come to terms with what his city has become. Gosling has an inner apathy that he taps into that makes for intense viewing. Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton, as Cohen’s opposition’s muscle, evokes a young Russell Crowe, with restrained fire and grit beneath his outward suave. Penn’s Micky Cohen is a direct homage to Robert Deniro’s larger than life Al Capone in The Untouchables. The facial make-up modification, the brutality and even a bastardised version of the “I want him dead…” monologue all feature. It is a sad departure from the incredible run of award worthy performances of the last few years (This Must Be the Place and Milk). However, with the exception of these tremendous actors Fleischer’s performance direction is essentially absent. Brolin, Nolte, Mackie, Pena and Patrick may as well have been played by extras from Team America: World Police.
Will Beall’s script is essentially a contemporary ‘cop versus gangster’ story with the clock wound back. The once essential detective skills, stakeouts, and beating a confession out of a perpetrator are all absent and inserted is the ‘ye-olde wire tapping’ (what?!). This reviewer was consistently taken out of the story as the different frustrating questions relating to the retrofitted contemporary policing methods required wild leaps of faith. Cinematographer Dion Beebe and Fleischer take the ‘only headshots’ approach to framing Gangster Squad that completely does away with the art deco sets and particularly the costumes. This does add something when one of the aforementioned stars is occupying the screen, chewing scenery. However, being point blank for Brolin delivering the horrendous dialogue coaxed me to exclaim aloud – “this guy is dumb as a post.”
Gangster Squad can’t be saved by a few decent performances, the aesthetic allure of 50s L.A when the majority of film feels like it’s a videogame cut scene … on a Sega Megadrive.
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Will Beall, Paul Lieberman (book)
Starring: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, Robert Patrick and Emma Stone