action, anthony mackie, crime, emma stone, gangster squad, giovanni ribisi, josh brolin, los angeles, michael pena, mickey cohen, nick notle, rubert fleischer, ryan gosling, sean penn
Grade: B- (RENT IT)
BY THE TIME the members of the Gangster Squad toast to their crime-fighting conquests in postwar Los Angeles, mobster Mickey Cohen is already red-in-the-face and shouting that they’ll never take him down. Cohen, the legendary gangster who went west from his native Chicago to scope out Bugsy Siegel, is played by a pruned Sean Penn. This is a performer who normally avoids uni-dimensional characters, but here, as a straight-up evil thug, he is crime incarnate. “Gangster Squad” is indebted to Penn and his cast-mates, but it’s derivative in every way of a whole squad of other – make that, better – genre greats like “LA Confidential” and “Chinatown.”
Nevertheless, writer Will Beall, in an adaptation of “Gangster Squad: Cover Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles” by reporter Paul Lieberman, arms Penn’s Cohen with tommy-guns and zippy one-liners like “That’s wasn’t murder; it was progress” and “L.A. belongs to Mickey Cohen.” Not if Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) can help it. Despite his pregnant wife’s protestations, he forms a group that Cohen derisively nicknamed the “Stupidity Squad.” Here, it’s comprised of Harris (Anthony Mackie), gun-slinger Kennard (Robert Patrick), Ramirez (Michael Peña), and techie Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi). Ribisi is usually the chameleon who brings unique voices to supporting roles, as he did in last year’s “Contraband,” but in “Gangster Squad,” Ryan Gosling (as Sgt. Jerry Wooters) regresses to the pitch of his pubescence for some odd reason. As Cohen’s girlfriend, Grace (Emma Stone) is less concerned with Wooters’ voice than she is with his looks. Gosling and Stone only recently romped in “Crazy Stupid Love,” but the results were neither lovely nor crazy (for the latter, see “Blue Valentine”). These are two actors too keenly aware of their own allure to mix and melt in the way real chemistry on screen requires, so it’s a mystery why they’re reunited (and so soon).
That’s the work of Rubert (“Zombieland”) Fleischer whose “Gangster Squad” opens with a grizzly gangland murder that will make you avert your eyes. (Think of being snapped in half like a human biscotti as two cars pull you apart – oh, and there are coyotes around to eat your innards.) Then, in keeping with the conventionality of “Gangster Squad,” Fleischer’s film ends with a hero hugging his wife and infant son on a beach in Southern California. Order, family, justice have been restored: The End. It’s this turn from the lurid to the lovely that makes “Gangster Squad” lopsided. In short, it needs target practice.
Fine review Colin. Sean Penn gave a great performance as the baddie and he was the one thing that kept me in my seat. Not bad but not great either.
Agreed; excited to see ZERO DARK 30 today; will go back and read your review.
“These are two actors too keenly aware of their own allure to mix and melt in the way real chemistry on screen requires,”
Wow – such a good observation. This, indeed, is exactly what’s the problem with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Their hyperawareness of their current cult status bleeds into (many) of their characters. Which works sometimes – see Drive for Gosling – but not always. Love it when I read a review that verbalizes something I was unable to put my finger on myself!
The problem with Mickey Cohen was that he was a completely one-dimensional villain. His minions had no reason whatsoever to be following him (unless they all had a death wish) and I kept wondering why they did. Something that even The Avengers did better; create a villain the audience can root for or at least empathize with to a certain extent, and your movie will be so much more complex. I thought Gangster Squad was entertaining enough but not something I’ll remember.
Wow; these are great thoughts. That’s what I meant when I said Penn was a surprise in this role since he doesn’t usually play cartoonish, one-dimensional characters…must have been the paycheck, haha, since he tends to make indie films. I need to see THE AVENGERS, speaking of cartoons, since it was so popular, but I skipped it…and in terms of Gosling, he seemed to smirking a bit in this film, as if to say: aren’t I a honey? He needs to lose that and what was with the high-pitched voice? Distracting….
I give it a 6/10 Colin. You mention it is almost cartoonish. I’ll go one further and name a film in the review I’m too tired tired to write now: near midnight. That will come Sunday. Again spot on review good man.
Thanks; will investigate NEAR MIDNIGHT; whose in it? Is it LA crime noir?
Does sound like a movie title. It was almost midnight and I could barely see to type. Sounds like another sequel to Before Sunset and After Sunrise 🙂