Gangster Squad ***
Directed By Ruben Fleischer
Starring – Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie and Robert Patrick
RUBEN Fleischer’s Gangster Squad is a highly polished big-budget feature, oozing with stylish visual flair. But behind its considerable beauty theirs a gritty action feature, with enough violence to rival Brian de Palma’s, The Untouchables.
The plot borrows heavily from de Palma’s 1987 Oscar-winning classic, switching the action from Chicago to Los Angles on America’s sun-drenched west coast. The city of angels has been overrun by the seemingly untouchable mob boss, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). A former boxer, Cohen is an egotistical mobster with considerable ambition, he has city officials and police officers in his pocket.
When a group of police officers are assigned the task of secretly bringing down Cohen’s empire, they undertake a series of covert attacks on his criminal operations. Their aim is to weaken Cohen’s power-base and lessen his influence upon the city.
Led by Josh Brolin’s Sergeant John O’Mara, the war veteran is disgusted by what is going on within his city and even more so by the apathy of his police colleagues in attempting to bring Cohen down. He jumps at the chance to tackle Penn’s character head on, when he is approached by Nick Nolte’s Chief of police to recruit a squad to bring Cohen down.
The feature beautifully captures Hollywood’s own vision for Los Angles, but at times the stylish visual effects feel out-of-place within the film’s nourish setting. In particular the slow motion gun battles littered throughout the feature felt too modern overly self-indulgent.
Scratch away the film’s snazzy visuals and violence and sadly there’s nothing of real substance onscreen. The script is cumbersome and creaky and many of the central characters are walking cinematic clichés. In particular Robert Patrick’s sharp-shooting officer Kennard, whose character seems, lifted from the Wild West, more cowboy than police officer. Despite this criticism, most of the cast make the best of what little they’ve been left to work with.
Even Ryan Gosling’s character Sergeant Jerry Wooters, is left with little to do throughout the feature. His character’s shift from a passive observer to a gun totting member of Brolin’s elite squad was simply too cinematically cliché to be truly credible. His performance is greatly overshadowed by both Brolin and Sean Penn. Penn is delightfully over the top throughout the feature as the real-life mobster Mickey Cohen, chewing the scenery in almost every scene he’s in. But his nasal prosthetic is an unnecessary addition, reducing his onscreen persona to that of Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice from Dick Tracy.
Fleischer’s previous feature, Zombieland, had well-written roles for his female cast, ensuring they had equal parity onscreen with their male counterparts. But with this film it’s fair to say he’s unable to recreate the same feat.
Emma Stone’s femme-fatale character, Grace Faraday oozes sexuality onscreen, but it would have been nice to see her character’s role fleshed out more. She’s left with little to do, other than to look pretty in her stylish dresses.
But Texan actress Mireille Enos is wonderful as Brolin’s understanding spouse, Connie O’Mara. Her character could easily have been written as nothing more than the worried stay at home. pregnant wife of a police officer. But instead she is her husband’s rock and confidant, reluctantly resigned to supporting him in his line of duty. There is a genuine sweetness about their relationship, as she helps her husband select the members for his unit.
Considering the talent involved within the feature, a two-time Oscar winner (Penn) and three Oscar Nominees (Nolte, Gosling and Brolin), it’s a shame that the final product is so uninspiring. The film’s production design is top notch, akin to L.A. Confidential and the Black Dahlia but it lacks that feature’s depth.
Gangster Squad suffers greatly from its obvious comparison to Brian de Palma’s 1987 Gangster classic, The Untouchables. Theirs obvious plot and character similarities but taken on its own merit it’s a perfectly watchable viewing experience, playing out more like summer blockbuster than the film noir style feature I’d hoped for.
January’s cinematic releases are usually dominated by Oscar contending features, as such the film feels a little lightweight in comparison. Had the film’s producers waited till the summer months to release their movie they might have found it receiving a much warmer reception.