By Gary “Hooligan Troop” Murray
Starring Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Sean Penn and Ryan Gosling
Written by Will Beall
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Running time 113 min
MPAA Rating R
Selig Film Rating Cable
The gangster film has been around almost since the beginning of cinema. Some will argue that The Great Train Robbery was a gangster film and not a western. The films had their heyday with such works as Public Enemy (1931) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1938). In 1967, Warren Beatty produced and starred in Bonnie & Clyde which reinvented the genre in an Arthur Penn orgy of blood and violence. The Untouchables (1987) further advanced the telling of the tale by borrowing a scene from Battleship Potemkin (1925). Today, the films about low-life individuals are regulated more toward drug-fueled inner-city melees of plasma and cartilage. Director Ruben Fleisher has decided to take it very old school with Gangster Squad.
The film takes place in 1949. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is a rarity, a high minded cop in a corrupt city known as Los Angeles. Where he has to follow the rules of enforcement, the criminals have rough-shot over both the law and the streets. His boss Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) is fed up with the corruption by both the authorities and the hoods themselves. He tasks John to put together a crew of like-minded law enforcement individuals who will not mind working outside the confines of the law.
So, here comes the ‘assemble the troops’ flick.
John’s wife implores him not to get high-minded goody-goody cops but guys who have no problem leaving their badges behind. One of the men is Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) a young cop who has lost his idealism in a laissez-faire attitude. His manner changes when someone close to him is caught in the crossfire as an innocent bystander. The other wrench in Jerry’s change is his infatuation with Grace (Emma Stone). She is the femme fatale of the piece.
Grace is the kept woman of Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). He is a former fighter who has turned his legitimate fame and fortune into a mob empire. Even though Mickey has built a successful racket of prostitution and drugs, he wants more. The jackals of Chicago organized crime are also gunning to take over his territory, a prospect that does not appeal to this self-made man. He has worked hard to get just about every politician in his back pocket and does not want to let any other person to move into his business.
The film is basically the good guys versus the bad guys. There are few surprises in Gangster Squad. Anyone who has seen a movie knows about five minutes into the work how it is going to end. The people who are going to die are telegraphed so far in advance that there is no shock when it happens.
The film is a showcase for Sean Penn but it showcases more his overacting abilities and his perchance to chew on every piece of scenery put in front of his massive jaws. He overacts to the point of parody, lost in flaying gestures. He is a great actor but tries to disprove his prowess with the role of a suave gangster. It is one of the biggest misfires of the new year.
Josh Brolin is a growl machine in this work, snapping and snarling at every turn. There is no sense of joy in any part of his performance. It is if he only had one emotion in his acting tool box and used it in every instance, whether it needed it or not. It is a one-note banging of the drum.
Ryan Gosling fairs better in Gangster Squad but he is more known as a guy who takes off his shirt in the movies than for any acting skills. Here he takes on a bit of a strange accent that seems out of place in the world of the film. It is almost as if he is from another movie, spliced into this one.
Emma Stone seems to be channeling a young Lauren Bacall with her role as Grace. She has all the moves and wears the period dresses with a certain style. It is just that she is given very little to do. In the world of Gangster Squad, women are almost an afterthought. This is a he-man boy’s club with the women left to the shadows.
Gangster Squad is an okay flick, more of an entertainment than a motion picture. It has some decent action scenes and director Ruben Fleischer captures the feel of the genre. It is just that he doesn’t tell a compelling story.