Kill kill, bang bang – ★★★
Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad arrives on screens under quite a proverbial cloud. As we outlined in our January 2013 preview, the film was delayed following the Aurora shootings from a September 2012 release until now. The original trailer for the film featured a shoot-out in a cinema and would have caused unnecessary real-world controversy for what was ultimately just a fun gangster film without any real pretensions of social commentary. That scene has now been cut and a re-shot scene in a dance-hall takes its place. These are escapist movies and should only be viewed as such, end of story.
So with that unfortunate introduction out of the way, on with the review! Gangster Squad is set in 1948 and is the story of the fall of real-life Los Angeles mobster Mickey Coen, a former boxer played by Sean Penn with a prosthetic nose. Police corruption means he has to be taken out of commission by a clandestine gang of police-officers working with “No names, no badges and no mercy.” This group is led by Josh Brolin as a clean-cut idealist sergeant with sidekick Ryan Gosling as the too cool for school ladies man Sgt. Wooters. They work with four men (all pictured above and all solid actors – Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Peña) to reek havoc with Coen’s operations by blowing things up or killing his men. It’s all pretty straight-forward, but to complicate things 1940s-style? A fine set of legs – Coen’s reluctant current squeeze Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), the redhead who falls for Gosling’s Wooters.
Hopes were high for Gangster Squad mainly due to that stellar ensemble cast. Putting that amount of talent into one film would make for a great Friday night at the movies, right? Well kinda. Penn’s portrayal of Coen is wonderfully larger than life as he tackles this terrifying cartoon character of a villain and is undoubtedly the best thing about the film. Unfortunately the need for six men in the squad make things a little crowded at times and Peña and Mackie in particular are completely anonymous.
Brolin doesn’t have a lot to do other than play the serious law-abiding guy that he’s so type-cast in at this stage that he pretty parodied the performance in last year’s Men in Black 3. Gosling’s work here is interesting, choosing a weird high-pitch voice and camping it up a little bit as the confident ladies man – it’s certainly got more in common with Crazy, Stupid, Love than any of his work with Nicolas Winding Refn or Derek Cianfrance.
In the end we’re just left with a well-executed, stylised gangster film that, despite all the talk and promise, doesn’t really have a lot to say. But in this day and age of people putting too much thought into some films and claiming they’re meant to be something they’re not, maybe there’s something to be taken from a film content to be as mindlessly enjoyable as this.
USA / Directed By: Ruben Fleischer / Written By: Will Beall / Starring: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Mireille Enos, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi / 113min / Action, Crime, Drama / Release: 10 January 2013 (Ireland, UK, USA, Canada)