Film Review: Gangster Squad (2013)

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Gangster Squad’ features an impressive ensemble cast attempting to replicate a ‘true story’ Los Angeles in the 1940’s. The opening few minutes show us what we’re in for, a man having his body ripped in two by evil mega-gangster Mickey Cohen, played ridiculously by Sean Penn, and the villain to end all villains. Cohen was a real-life boxer-turned-mafiosa, an awful man, who at times Penn embodies well, spitting his dialogue out with pure vitriol, and at others I just felt he overdid it, causing annoyance. That may also apply for ‘Gangster Squad’, also; a film which at times entertains well enough, but at others is wholly average and a little bit boring.

Stylistically, director Ruben Fleischer has got it spot on, with dramatic slow-mo’s at the right time, reminiscent of his previous zombie-comedy-action flick, ‘Zombieland’, never really overdoing it and impressing a lot. The inventive shots are a highlight of the film, and are a nice feature for the film to have on the whole. However, this doesn’t save up for the wrongdoings of the film on the whole, and whilst I’ll say I wasn’t annoyed at the film afterwards, more disappointed at what could’ve been considering the potential of the story and the great cast.

Said great cast are, for the most part, underused and underdeveloped, as the film attempts to cram them all in  as almost equals, with only Josh Brolin’s ‘lead’ cop given a decent, but cliched backstory with his family. Brolin was the best thing about last year’s disastrous ‘Men In Black 3′, in a support role, and as the ‘lead’ in this, I’m not sure he has the charisma needed to drag the film along. Ryan Gosling is disappointing in a character that seems to be desperately aping his performance in ‘Drive’, but never quite managing it. Right now, Gosling has to seriously consider the sort of roles he takes; if he continues to take on these quiet, but deadly hitman roles, as his next film, ‘A Place Beyond the Pines’, also looks to be, he’ll be labelled as a one trick pony.

He might want to take a leaf out of co-star Giovanni Ribsi’s book, going from a perverted father in last year’s hit comedy ‘Ted’, to the brains in the squad Brolin’s cop has banded together. Ribsi, almost a mirror image of a ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ character, is again hit and miss, replicating the film, and again is a reminder of what could’ve been. Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena put in so-so performances as underused ethnic minorities, as the film skates around the racism which may have been prominent back in the day. Emma Stone is the ‘damsel in distress’, something she is far, far above, it would’ve been nice to see her given a much more interesting presence. And Sean Penn. As I’ve mentioned, his turn as Cohen, is at times, almost laughable, as he screams and shouts his way through the film, but, strangely enough he’s probably the best thing in the film, giving it an anchor and a figure for the audience to purely hate.


The inventive shots help the action scenes along for a while,but by the time the final shootout comes about, I was tired of the same old. Our ‘heroes’, who at times feel just as bad as Cohen and his gangsters, have one tactic, to run in and kill everyone on sight. Indeed, I’d say the last 20 minutes on the whole are a cop-out, the ending in particular, which sticks with the same old formula the rest of the film follows straight to the script.

All in all, I’d say it wasn’t £3 completely wasted (Orange Wednesdays!), but a part of me wishes I’d seen ‘Django Unchained’, once more, and saved my time with these average, average film.


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