‘Gangster Squad’ Movie Review – Artificial All Around
There’s no way to tease my intro or hide my true feelings. Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad is not a good movie. There are a few things it does decent, but for the most part it is disappointing for a wide array of reasons.
Set in the late 1940s and early 1950s Los Angeles, the LAPD, manned by Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), led an all-out attack on Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) to regain control of the crime-ridden city.
Cohen was a ruthless gangster that resorted to extreme violence to get his way and gain control. When the Mayor (Nick Nolte) asks for assistance, O’Mara enlists the help of Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Detective Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Detective Conway Keeler (Giovanni Rabisi), and Detective Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) to drive Cohen’s business out of Southern California.
Based on true events, one of Gangster Squad’s few highlights was the setting. Coming after World War II, there was an influx of ex-soldiers and criminal activity, especially since guns and drugs were becoming more popular.
It was more of the idea of the setting that worked, though, because the movie felt extremely artificial from start to finish. The filmmakers brought in the right designs, but I never once felt the movie was actually in the 1940s. I’m not sure if I can explain it better than it just felt unreal.
Worse than this is the overall characterization. This is Fleischer’s third feature film, and part of the reason his first movie, Zombieland, worked so well was because it was a smaller cast. Unfortunately, Gangster Squad is the opposite, and as the cast continued to grow none of the characters did.
Once we met them all, there was practically no background or development. They were completely one-dimensional. This is the most problematic for Emma Stone, because I’m still trying to figure out why she was in the movie to begin with. They absolutely wasted her talent. Her and Gosling had great chemistry in 2011’s Crazy, Stupid, Love, but it’s almost non-existent here.
Then Penn comes in and tries to make up for it by completely overdoing and overacting his part. Penn has a tendency to overdo things, but this is the worst I’ve seen in some time. At one point, he yells “Here comes Santy Claus,” drawing cringes from all around the theater.
The list continues, too, because Gangster Squad lacks all subtlety. Any movie that starts and ends with narration (without any in between) is prone to this problem. There are huge pieces of expository dialogue that hit you over the head more. The script, in general, did no favors for the movie.
I’m a bit surprised Gangster Squad turned out the way it did. Going into a movie expecting a masterpiece is probably unrealistic, but there is a certain level of quality we should all expect. Ruben Fleischer’s newest movie lacks everything from characterization to subtlety, and it completely wastes the incredibile cast. There’s not even a real bright spot within the ensemble, and I hate harping on one person, but Sean Penn’s version of Mickey Cohen was the worst of all.
Sure, there is a degree to which I’ll allow you to defend this movie, but that amount is smaller than the overall enjoyment I had.
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