Gangster Squad – 3/5 Movie Reviews by Ry!

Gangster Squad – 3/5 – Gangster style films; they are a dime a dozen in the film industry.  When it comes to these kinds of films, they can be deeply rich with character development and shocking violence.  They also implicate a great deal of story driven elements that are intricate, and helps create a visceral world that is believable.   For the most part, films of this genre strike gold.  Other times, they fall flat and become just another general action flick with elements that make the style gangster like.   Gangster Squad is that film.  This film is based on a true story, but falls flat because of a lack of character depth, tone and action delivery.  There are bright spots at times in the film, but to tell you straight up, you will not be very impressed for a film that has so much great talent in the film.

The premise is as followed:

It is the year 1939, in the city of Los Angeles.  Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is at the height of his control of the city’s under belly, and has all the essential elements of who runs the city in his back pocket.  A tipping point happens, and the Chief of the LA police department has appointed Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to put together a secret crew of police officers to fight him.  Led by O’Mara and Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), they work together in an effort to take down the ruthless mob king once in for all.

When it comes to the main players in the movie (Sean Penn and Josh Brolin), they both provide admirable efforts in their roles.  As Mickey Cohen, Sean Penn gives us an over-the-top, ruthless criminal.  He gives us a character that has his sights not only on LA, but on controlling the west coast.   The anger and angst is up front in his performance, which shows vividly as he interacts in a vicious fashion with everyone in the film.  A lot of the time, his acting comes across very cliché and corny.  He is very powerful in his portrayal as Mickey Cohen, but the constant yelling and cursing begins to weight down the character.  This causes his villainy in the film to become comical.  On the flip side, as John O’Mara, Josh Brolin provides a staunch, honorable cop.  His character is the typical good guy, and will do anything to provide a place that is safe and free from this mobster control.  When he is brought to task this group, his ‘war veteran’ background comes to play.  This side of him shows his arrogance and short sidedness in his actions and counter actions.  He isn’t over the top, so his character is more believable to the audience.  You feel attached to the character, and at least care about his mission.  For the supporting cast, you have a lot notable names in this film; these people include Emma Stone, Ryan Gosling, Michael Pena, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick and Anthony Mackie.  The ones from the list that play more prominent roles are Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.  Gosling plays the other Sergeant, Jerry Wooters, and he is gives a stylistic approach to his role.  Like any role Ryan plays, he always provides great charisma in his delivery of his lines as well as his interactions with others. For the most part, you like his character in the film, but other times his antics and delivery falls flat.  When it falls flat, it seems he gets lost in the stylistic side, and it seems as if he forgets he is in a gangster film.   With not a lot of character depth to him, it is a mixed performance for his style and caliber.  Emma Stone plays the typical ‘gangster dame’ in this film.  She has a lot of screen time, and most of it is with Gosling’s character.  There is a love story between them, as well as a love triangle angle that is created between them two and Sean Penn.  This side story is way underdeveloped, and it felt forced.  This causes her character to become one dimensional, and fall flat on screen.  For the other actors named above, they do well in provided backdrop to the story’s progression, as well as provide elements to make the action watchable and entertaining.

The direction of this film is very lacking.  With the ‘true story’ aspect the premise, you have a shoe horn of marking a straight progressing story.  This particular story involves the gangster, the squad, and the ultimate take down of that gangster.  What ensues from this premise is a mix-matching process of criminal drama, pseudo love story, and gangster style action.  Never at one time do these themes match up well with one another.  With no meshing happening, the focus of having a main plot point never happens either.  In the beginning, you have the development of the criminal drama aspect.  This helps add some back-story to the character of Mickey Cohen and the gangster squad, but it quickly falls to the background when the stylistic gangster violence and the love triangle takes up camera time.  Every time the tone and direction flips, it will cause confusion as to ‘what is’ the main point of the film.  Is it a true story movie or is it a love story full of gangster violence.  With so many great actors, it seems as if the director wants to provide enough screen time for everyone as an ‘individual’, that basic narrative and storytelling falls to the wayside.  This creates a film experience that is stale, predictable and ultimately not good.  Outside of this, there are Two set pieces kept the movie entertaining.  Those set pieces are the China town sequence as well as the climax to capture Mickey Cohen.  Nothing of a spectacle, but  it is enough to make you feel you got your money’s worth.

For the bad direction of the film, what gives this film any kind of favorability is its visuals.  The cinematography is well created, as the creation of a ‘1949 Los Angeles’ makes you feel as if you’re experience something historical and era driven.  From the night clubs, to the police headquarters, as well as the homes and the character’s dress style, you feel part of this era, and are engrossed in it.  This helps envelope a sense of believing the actions sequence, as well as create a simple stylistic tone to the movie.  The score helps add depth to this, but doesn’t do much to make it stand out.

Overall, Gangster Squad does give us a stylistic look at a true story, but falls flat on so many levels.  Some of the acting, including Sean Penn’s character, is ho-hum, and the direction is never leveled with the many layers that are created in the film.  Some decent action ensues, and the visuals help keep the film watchable.  I’d recommend this as a matinee, and fans of gangster films.

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