Movie Review Rewind: Gangster Squad (2013)
Gangster Squad provides exactly what I expected, but also wanted. It has violence, tommy guns, cool suits, and a lot of attitude, which is precisely what a gangster flick should contain. The movie is a terrific throwback to the days when mobsters ran wild and had everyone eating out of the palm of their hand. Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) shows no mercy when it comes to the characters getting their hands dirty. He tells a ferocious and foul tale based on true events, but balances it with some good old-fashioned fun and more humor than one might expect from a film like this. Fleischer creates a thrilling, stylish atmosphere and has a hell of a cast to bring such a flashy yet corrupted, dangerous time in our history to life.
Set in the City of Angels in 1949, boxing champ-turned-mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is running the streets and owns just about everything and everyone in town. Cohen does not have his sights set on just one or two cities in California. He is way too greedy for that. He wants control over the entire state. While most just turn a blind eye, Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) wants to take Cohen down and get him out of his city. But he knows he cannot do it within the confinements of the law so he brings in a war hero turned cop named John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and it’s his job to get a group of fellow officers to take down Cohen’s whole operation, except no one can know about it. The only rule is to leave your badges at home.
O’Mara starts looking at the top of the list for his men, but his pregnant wife interrupts and believes her husband will be safer in the hands of “outcasts” who cannot be bought. And it’s she who ends up being the one who puts the Gangster Squad together. The squad consists of men who come from different places and handle their business in their own way, but all of them want the same goal: A brighter future for them, their families and the city of Los Angeles.
There is Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena). Kennard looks like someone straight out of the Wild Wild West. He is a killer shot. Ramirez is his young sidekick who was not exactly invited to join but forced his way in. Then we have Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), a dedicated black officer, and Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), a genius in communications. Last but not least is Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) and at first he wants no part in getting Cohen. He is fine with being Romeo in a police uniform who enjoys women and drinks. But when it becomes personal for him, revenge becomes the driving force that gets him to become part of the team.
Brolin fits just right in the role of O’Mara. There is no question that he is a talented guy, but it doesn’t hurt to have the look of a man in charge who acts instead of reacts. Gosling plays the handsome charmer which isn’t a stretch for him by any means. However, there is more to him than just his looks. Once his attitude changes and wants nothing more than to tear Cohen’s world apart, he takes it one step further and goes after his woman (Emma Stone) as well.
But it’s Penn who takes control and commands the most attention out of anyone on the screen. It’s been quite awhile since he has played such a rotten guy. But, he chews up every scene he is in. His Cohen is power-hungry and ruthless, but these traits are what made him the kingpin he has become. He commands respect and even fear. But, it is his intensity that makes him a man you do not want to mess with. It seems like that same intensity follows Penn into each of his performances. That is what makes him a force to be reckoned with and with such a star-studded cast, that’s saying something.
Other reviews compare Gangster Squad to two other crime-mob films: The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential. And if the film isn’t being compared to them, they are at least being mentioned in the same sentence. Not only is it not fair, but it’s irrelevant. Fleischer’s film isn’t like those other two and it’s not supposed to be. His vision is very different from directors Brian De Palma and Curtis Hanson, and there should be no judgment for that. Now does this mean Gangster Squad doesn’t have a few bullet holes in it? Absolutely not. For example, it would have been nice to have some depth when it comes to the rest of the guys in the squad. Without knowing a lot about the men, there’s no reason to emotionally invest. In return, it leaves you not caring about what happens to them.
The most disappointing thing in the film may be the lack of chemistry between Gosling and Stone. It does not help she’s not in the movie that much. But, their relationship isn’t given the proper time or attention either. You will just have to watch Crazy, Stupid, Love if you want to see real chemistry between the two.
But even with that said, it still does not take away from how cool and entertaining Gangster Squad is. It delivers everything a mobster film should. Fleischer is doing his thing and makes this genre his own. His film may not be a masterpiece that some had hoped for, but it’s still pretty damn good.
“Nature Boy” Brandon Vick is the resident film critic of the SoBros Network, and star of Brandon’s Box Office In Your Mouth. Follow him on Twitter@SirBrandonV and be sure to search #VicksFlicks for all of his latest movie reviews.