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Gangster Squad

A Film directed by Ruben Fleischer

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Imagine "The Untouchables"-Lite Colliding with "Dick Tracy"

  • Jan 12, 2013
In light of the Colorado theater shootings last year, director Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad” was delayed for almost 5 months with its release. This was because the filmmakers wanted time to remove a similar scene in the film which at this moment some may deem tasteless. I guess this would not be an excuse as to why the film felt like this generation’s “The Untouchables” meeting “Dick Tracy” with some inspiration taken from the fantastic “L.A. Confidential”...the film just has a very messy script.

                          Nick Nolte as Bill Parker in "Gangster Squad."

                          Ryan Gosling as Sgt. Jerry Wooters, Michael Pena as Navidad Ramirez, Robert Patrick as Max Kennard, Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O'Mara and Anthony Mackie as Coleman Harris in "Gangster Squad."

The film begins with a label “Inspired by a True Story” when really the only true event that it was based on was Sean Penn’s character Mickey Cohen was really a boxer who became a mob boss who for a time controlled most of la-la land’s organized crime element. There really is a police chief named William Parker (Nick Nolte) who may have gone to an ex-military cop named John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and asked him to form an off the grid group of good cops to take down Cohen. This group had been hand-picked by O-Mara’s wife; the cowboy with the six-shooter (Jason Patrick), the black guy who likes knives (Anthony Mackie), the smart guy with gadgets (Giovanni Ribisi), the playboy (Ryan Gosling) and a tag along (Michael Pena). The group will disrupt Cohen’s operations of illegal gambling, drug trafficking and prostitution to take him down.

The rest of the film is entirely fictional, and with the way its tempo and its mood, there is certainly a lot of bombastic and exaggerated elements going its way. The way the characters played out hardly have any imagination in them as they are one-dimensional, (save for Brolin’s O’Mara who has a bit of intensity around him) everyone were all cliché and underwritten. The characters do not drive the story, nor does the story dictate the pace of “Gangster Squad”. The director seems to have formed an obsession in making the film look ‘cool’, forgetting about the mechanics and depth of careful storytelling can make a film ‘cool’ and instead stoops for a film built for flamboyance and empty showmanship.

                        Emma Stone as Grace Faraday and Ryan Gosling as Sgt. Jerry Wooter in "Gangster Squad."

                       Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen and Holt McCallany as Karl Lockwood in "Gangster Squad."

                       Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen and Jon Polito as Dragna in "Gangster Squad."

I mean, the characters in the film are not characters, but rather just people in a film. Jerry the playboy (played by Gosling) is so bad. I know the actor actually has acting talent but his one-liners wear thin really fast. It was also too bad that his character took some of the central spotlight along with Brolin and Penn. Anthony Mackie’s character throwing a knife with absolute accuracy as an introduction feels like absolute comic-book gimmick. Penn is a great actor, and he would have been one of the film’s best elements, but the bad dialogue and obvious make up made his character feel a little too animated, that it was difficult to take him seriously. The old-timer cowboy played by Patrick was reminiscent of Sean Connery in “The Untouchables” but with a lot less charisma and dimension. The other two supporting players played by Emma Stone and Giovanni Ribisi provided potential but they were just a tad bit underwritten.

I guess if the film had a couple of good things going, it would be that Brolin played a good hard case “Dick Tracy” and his dynamics with his wife (played by Mereille Enos) gave some dimensions to his character. The film is a pretty handsome production. The set designs were impeccably rendered. The costumes created by Coen Bros. regular, Mary Zophres were really nice to look at (the scene with Emma Stone in that red gown was awesome). The production and art designs were well rendered into the scenes, and they gave the film the visual advantage to make the scenes come alive. In a superficial sense, the film is gorgeous and its action scenes can provide distraction from its hole-riddled plot. I know, I may be taking this film a little too seriously since this film is geared for an audience like me: violent mob movies are something I truly enjoy but violence without emotional content behind them just cannot work. The film does have its share of CGI blood and gore, and the machine gun fire were occasionally enhanced with freeze frames and slow motion. I did feel that despite its action scenes and grand designs, I could not ignore the holes and the bad anachronistic choices they made in its sloppy script.

                          Michael Pena as Navidad Ramirez and Anthony Mackie as Coleman Harris in "Gangster Squad."

                          Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen and Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O'mara in "Gangster Squad."

“Gangster Squad” is a handsome film, that all the viewer will be able to take in is just how good it looked. Again, I am the audience for a movie such as this. I love crime dramas and even gangster action, but this film was so deliberate in its pretension to make a gangster movie that feels more like a product of carelessness. Which is a waste given its great designs, but the story is just so filled with holes, bad dialogue and ineptitude that its narrative suffered. I had low expectations since the director of this film was responsible a few music videos and for the film “Zombieland”, which was decent but not all that good. The screenplay was written by Will Beall, who is supposed to write the upcoming “Justice League” movie and the upcoming Lethal Weapon reboot. Oi, if you judge those coming movies according to this script, it bodes bad for them.

Yes, “Gangster Squad” is a film built for flamboyance. But flamboyance means nothing without an approach, credible emotions and drama. It should be flamboyance wrapped around its story, and not the other way around. Rent This if you want to. [2 ½ Out of 5 Stars]

Poster art for "Gangster Squad." Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O'Mara in "Gangster Squad."


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January 17, 2013
Guess I will wait for the DVD
January 17, 2013
Hmm. Had hopes for this one -- mentioned elsewhere how I love vintage gangster flicks -- but Ryan Gosling just seems all wrong for this type of material (haven't seen it yet). And Emma Stone? Nah. Maybe she pulls it off, but she just seems WAY too young.
More Gangster Squad (2013 film) reviews
review by . January 13, 2013
posted in Movie Hype
Gangster Squad is just the kind of movie you need every once in a while.  A true turn you're brain off experience.  It won't insult you're intelligence and it won't insult you with being really stupid either.  It's just fun.  You can call the twists before they happen, the double cross as it's happening and the way things will work out.  The guy who couldn't shoot straight will when it counts and you guessed it, throw in some pathos and a pat …
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