¨I always knew I’d die in Burbank¨
Gangster Squad walks a really thin line between being a terrible film and an entertaining one. First of all it has a really great and talented cast; it also has a good production design and is very stylized reminding us of some epic gangster films. On the other hand the film only looks gangster-like on the surface; it is not really a serious neo-noir gangster film but more of a light comedic gangster movie. This is director Ruben Fleisher’s follow up to his hit comedy Zombieland, and in a way it does feel like a satire of sorts of gangster films, but in some strange way it fails to find its own personality. You never know if you’re supposed to take the movie seriously or not because something is missing in the mix between drama and comedy. One critic defined the film better than I could by claiming it is ¨LA Confidential without the script.¨ It has the look and the tone of a serious gangster film, but the script which was loosely adapted by Will Beall from Paul Lieberman’s book just fails and the dialogues seem cartoonish at times. The violence is pretty heavy as there are plenty of glamorized gunfight scenes and a large body count. Sean Penn plays the villain a little over the top, but it works if you view the film as this sort of spoof of the gangster genre. And really in my opinion this approach is what works best because it is entertaining if taken lightly as a spoof. I feel sorry for those who went into this film with high expectations because they will mostly be disappointed, unless they can live with a mindless popcorn action flick with some good performances.
The story takes place in 1949 Los Angeles where Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a mob king from Chicago, has taken over the city and is planning on controlling all criminal activities there with the help of corrupt officers and judges. He will eliminate whoever stands in his path. Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) on the other hand is a WWII veteran who is determined to do what he can to clean up the city. When Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) hears about O’Mara’s heroics he decides to assign him with a special underground task: to form an elite squad of police officers that will take down the mob King. Thus O’Mara begins his quest to find the right officers for his special team with the help of his wife Connie (Mireille Enos) who is worried about his wellbeing and wants him to be protected as best as possible. O’Mara chooses Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) who’s the brains in the operation, and finally Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) who decides to accept O’Mara’s proposal after a member of the mob kills a kid he knew from the streets. Together these officers begin to try to intercept and disrupt Cohen’s operations working as an underground hit squad. Wooters also happens to be having an affair with Cohen’s love interest, Grace (Emma Stone), which could or could not be a good thing. And so the action begins as the squad tries to disrupt Cohen’s reign and clean up the city.
As I mentioned before this is an entertaining film which sometimes borderlines on the bad side considering it does have some pretty bad writing and underdeveloped characters. But it did work for me as a sort of spoof and light hearted film with a very stylized look to it. It has some fun action sequences with some strong performances, especially from the always reliable Ryan Gosling who continues to reinvent himself in every movie. I absolutely loved him here once again. Josh Brolin gives a pretty solid performance when he is not asked to do the voice over bit (it was a bit annoying at the beginning giving it a sort of fake Sin City vibe to it). The rest of the cast is pretty good although not getting enough screen time or storylines to develop their characters. Sean Penn plays the stereotypical bad guy a little over the top, but I enjoyed his performance as well (it wouldn’t have worked if you were expecting a serious gangster drama film). In the end Gangster Squad did work for me and I was entertained with this shoot-em up gangster film, but I know it isn’t for everyone.