05 August 2013

Movie Review: Gangster Squad by Ruben Fleischer

Title: Gangster Squad
Director(s): Ruben Fleischer
Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama
Rating: R
Release Date (USA): January 11, 2013

"Every man carries a badge. Some symbol of his allegiance. His were the scars of a boxer who'd used his fists to climb the social ladder of the mob. A Jew who'd gained the respect of wops through a homicidal lust. He'd sworn an oath of violence. And his master? His own insatiable will to power. He wanted to own this town. His name was Mickey Cohen."-Sgt. John O'Mara
It's Los Angeles in the 40's. There's booze a plenty and cash to be had, so long as you don't double-cross the wrong man --- and Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is that man. He happens to be the most powerful mobster in LA and his uncontrollable thirst for power and total disregard for the law threatens the sanctity of the entire West Coast. In an effort to take back the city, Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte), tasks Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), with cleaning up LA. Thus is born "The Gangster Squad," a covert group of undercover officers who will stop at nothing to bring Cohen down. This roving band of misfits slowly facilitate their take down of Cohen's empire in the most unorthodox of ways, one operation at a time. But when Wooters (Ryan Gosling) falls for Cohen's girl (Emma Stone), the whole operation is suddenly at stake. The group must now prepare for a war that has the potential to destroy the entire city and them.

Gangster Squad was one of those movies that didn't generate a lot of buzz on the movie circuit but had me all hyped up anyway. With a cool premise and all-star studded cast, coupled with the fact that it's supposed to be inspired by true events (a story I'm vaguely familiar with), I figured I was in it for the win. God, I hate it when I'm wrong! Movies that are "inspired by true events" should always be followed by a disclaimer that it will play fast and loose with both the historical accuracy and details of the actual story. In all fairness, I really should've should known better.

Basically, Gangster Squad is one of those movies that talks the talk but it doesn't walk the walkIt's superficial in that it looks the part but in no way can it run with the big boys. It's all bark and no bite, see. I think you get the point. It actually reminded me a lot of my recent Great Gatsby experience in that the focus seems to be more on the outer surface than the inner core. There's no arguing that it's a beauty to look at --- it's slick and stylised with a neo-noir sort of feel---but the violence is cartoonish, the dialogue hollow and the characters are all parodies of what mobsters and cops should be.

And I think that's the thing that surprised me most. We have this amazingly talented cast, yet no one really manages to break out of their stock gangster stereotype. It felt like they were all fighting eachother for the spotlight and the result was that not one of them managed to shine. I guess you really can't do much with a bland character thanks, in part, to poor development and writing. I'd also like to note that the Sean Penn - Emma Stone coupling really creeped me out here. Just... gross. And while we're on the subject of Sean Penn (and his character)--- he's too much. There's too much drama, too much make-up, too much tie. I mean, seriously. Those giant lapels look gluttonous like they are practically vomiting up that awful tie.

Sorry, I was distracted by the tie and the 4 lbs of make-up he's wearing. I digress. Sean Penn was way over-the-top with his characterisation of Cohen and hecame off comical, not dangerous. Essentially, he was the embodiment of every stereotypical villainous trait you could think of. Controlling over his woman. Oh yeah. Former boxing champ. Yep. Maniacal laughter. Yep. Cheesy bad-guy quips. Yep. Inefficient henchmen. You betcha. It was near impossible to take him seriously! Even Gosling, who is apparently super choosy about his roles, was less than impressive. Well, as less than impressive as a specimen such as himself can possibly be.

Really, you should just watch this GIF followed by the Gangster Squad trailer followed by some more of this GIF and it'll be better than the movie as a whole. This is one of those films you've seen before, only everyone else did it better. Don't let your expectations get the best of you like they did with me. While it's all wrapped up in shiny and pretty packaging, it's totally lacking where it counts the most. Very few movies can pull off being so high on action and artfully shot (i.e. - Drive). Gangster Squad is shooting blanks.

Summary Prognosis
Gangster Squad is a movie loaded with promise and potential but, unfortunately, it fails in the execution. While it's an aesthetically pleasing film to watch, it's predictible. The dialogue borders on cheesy, the characters read as inauthentic and hollow and the villainy is too over-the-top. It's a real shame, given the talent, that no one manages to break the mold. This movie, overall, is unsubstantial and wholly unsatisfying and that makes me sad.

Rating: ★★½

Watch It: Amazon | Target
Discuss It: IMDB | Rotten Tomatoes
View the Trailer:


  1. Tsk Tsk. What a shame this was a letdown! And I love Sean Penn, he's so intense but seeing him like this is just wrong. He doesn't need the makeup.

    1. It really was, especially because there is SO much talent featured in this movie. I definitely recommend skipping this one.

  2. I thought from the trailer that Gangster Squad looked like a decent idea that was going to go awry and over the top, but I never sought out or read any reviews of it, so it's good to read someone's thoughts on it. Sorry it ended up being disappointing for you!

    1. I can deal with a little over-the-topness here and there, but overall it was just one big cliche. If they had a better script and more context, I think the over-the-top stuff would've actually worked well for it, but alas, all that was lacking.

  3. Sorry you didn't enjoy this one. :(

    I actually saw it in theaters and I really liked it. I agree that it was over-the-top with the whole gangster stereotype, but for some reason I guess that didn't bother me. Maybe because I have a big thing for Ryan Gosling. lol

    1. No biggie. There are always going to be hits and misses. I think I just could'nt get over the fact that it was one giant cliche and because I had a little background knowledge already on Cohen, that let to disappointments in the end. Either way, Ryan Gosling made me stick through it to the end, haha.


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