FlixChatter Double Reviews: Gangster Squad

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Ted and I went to this film screening last Tuesday and once again we pretty much agree on our take on this one. Is it worth a watch? Well, read on.

Ted’s Review

Gangster Squad is a film that has big ambitions and it tried hard to be something more than it was. With a pretty good size budget ($75mil) and a solid cast, you’d think this could be a great period gangster film, unfortunately the people behind the cameras didn’t know what they were doing. The script is full of clichés from other better films, while the direction was all over the place.

The film starts out with a rogue LA detective John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) who is sick of crimes in his city and wants to clean it up. Being a WW2 veteran, he knows combat and will sacrifice himself to get rid of the bad guys. Unfortunately he’s a one man army going up against a ruthless mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who’s trying to create his own empire in the west. O’Mara is one of a few cops who are not on Cohen’s payroll and it’s difficult for him to even get help from his fellow detectives. One day he got call in to the chief of police office, Chief Parker (the not-aged-well Nick Nolte), Parker also wants to take down Cohen and gave O’Mara the freedom to do whatever it takes to do so. The only down side is no one will know about his mission and O’Mara won’t get any credit for it. O’Mara agreed and with the help of his wife, they started recruiting his team of rogue detectives.

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The film then becomes a generic good guys versus bad guys fill with shootouts and explosions. O’Mara’s team consists of misfits including a young detective Wooters (the totally miscast Ryan Gosling), electronics genius (Giovanni Ribisi) and three officers (Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña and Robert Patrick). Their plan is to take out Cohen’s operations one by one, sound familiar right? Yeah it’s the same plot as The Untouchables. As mentioned earlier, the script is full of clichés and a forced-romance between Wooters and Cohen’s lover Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) just didn’t fit into the plot whatsoever. The film is supposed to be about Brolin’s character and his mission to take down Cohen but by forcing these two characters into the plot, it just didn’t make sense to me.

Performances wise, I thought Brolin did a good job and his token characters (Peña, Mackie, Patrick and Ribisi) were pretty descent too. Sean Penn look bored, I’m not even sure why he accepted this role since he doesn’t like to star in big-budgeted films. Again I thought Gosling was total miscast and his character is totally unnecessary, while Emma Stone was on the screen for pure eye candy.

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Director Ruben Fleischer must’ve watched a lot of Sam Peckinpah’s and John Woo’s films before started working on this film. I love slo-mo action sequences but when a director decided to glamorizes those sequences then I think they don’t add anything to the film or even look exciting. Fleischer even followed the formula of action film to the teeth. Rouge heroes, check. Big car chase, check. Explosions check. Big climatic shootouts, check. The hero goes mano-a-mano with the villain at the end, check. Now I don’t mind if a film is very generic, heck I thought Jack Reacher was a pretty generic action thriller but it was well made and I enjoyed it quite a bit. I can’t say the same about this film, I think Fleischer just doesn’t have enough experience or talent to make this kind of genre; remember his previous two films were comedies.

I think with a better script and director, this could have been a very good period gangster film. But unfortunately the talents behind the cameras aren’t great and what we got here is a forgettable turkey that belongs in the dead winter season.

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2 out of 5 reels


Ruth’s Review

When I first saw the poster above, I thought boy, it couldn’t get any cheesier. Everybody looked like a mannequin doing corny poses and paired with an even cornier tagline. Well, it certainly sets the tone for the movie.

The story can’t be more straightforward, made even more mind-numbingly simple by Josh Brolin’s narration explaining things. Basically Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is the arch villain, a Brooklyn-born gangster who owns Los Angeles in the late 40s. Practically all of the town’s politicians and cops have been bought with the money from all of Cohen’s shady businesses of drugs, guns and prostitution. The Gangster Squad is formed in order to stop Cohen’s quickly-expanding empire, led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). The start of the movie is basically a long exposition on how the squad was formed, how O’Mara recruited each member of the squad.

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Inspired by a true story (Cohen is like the Al Capone of the West Coast), there’s a lot of wasted potential here. Seems to me that director Ruben Fleischer is so enamored by the gangster era that he glamorizes everything about it, forgoing character development and a biting story. As one would expect in a gangster movie though, the violence is pretty brutal and there’s a constant onslaught of shootout after another, filmed in the most exasperating slo-mo style that lessen the impact of what’s going on instead of enhances it. Thus, despite the amount of violence, I feel that the characters don’t seem to be in any real danger. Even when they’re in peril, such as being burned alive, the way its depicted on screen is so stylized it’s hard to really feel anything. It also doesn’t help that most of the characters are so one-dimensional, which is such a waste of the talents involved.

Truth be told, to say that I’m not a huge fan of the three main actors (Brolin, Penn and Gosling) would be putting it mildly. But I realize they’re quite popular and most people consider them very talented actors. Not that this movie would actually change my mind about any of them, well except for maybe Brolin who’s actually pretty good here as his character was given the most to do. Still it could’ve been developed better to rise above being a one-dimensional hero. My bafflement about Gosling’s popularity continues as his supposedly-suave ladiesman style annoys the heck out of me. Reportedly he deliberately uses a higher-pitched voice for this role, for what purpose I’ll never know! He’s pretty much just the pretty boy here, whose romance with Emma Stone‘s Grace Faraday is so cheesy and utterly unnecessary. I generally like Stone, but though she looks good in her period gowns, she’s lacking any kind of believability or conviction to portray a femme fatale. I wish they’d just focus on the love story between O’Mara and his wife Connie, played by Mireille Enos. I’ve never seen Enos before but she impressed me here and Connie is perhaps the only character I give a hoot about.

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As for Sean Penn… oh, where do I begin? As if the characters weren’t cartoon-ish enough, his make up is just plain bizarre. I mean he’s already looked pretty scary on his own anyway, what’s the point of all that goop? I was thinking that if they wanted an actor with a ‘boxing face,’ they should’ve just hired Mickey Rourke! Anyway, I think The Huffington Post sums it up nicely in this article, Penn’s overacting style is off the charts.

It’s the supporting actors who actually manage to ingest some fun, even if they’re all as stereotypical as they come (but hey, they fill the ‘diversity’ quota). Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña, two supporting actors who should get more lead roles as they’re always so fun to watch, plus Giovanni Ribisi as the ‘brain’ of the squad operations and Robert Patrick as the no-nonsense gunslinger. Nick Nolte was appropriately grizzled as the only police chief who hasn’t been bought by Cohen.

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Ultimately, Gangster Squad is just a sleek but soulless and shallow endeavor. Every single thing one associate with the gangster lifestyle is on display here as if we’re going into some kind of Gangster ‘Disneyworld’ of sort. The production design and 1940s costumes are great to look at but in terms of depicting the real demons and darkness of the gangster world and what’s really at stake, this movie falls way short. I wouldn’t even call this movie a suspense thriller as there’s barely any real tension and the deluge of stylized violence grew increasingly dull. Heck, the scene where the toys tried to cross the highway in Toy Story 2 has more nail-biting moments than this entire movie!

So if you’re into this genre, don’t expect any kind of depth, complexity or nuances of L.A. Confidential or Untouchables. It may resemble those two in terms of story, but the similarity ends there. It’s a gritty story without any grit in its depiction, there’s just no immersive quality nor sense of realism as the whole thing feels like one giant ‘gangster-ized’ set.

2.5 out of 5 reels


So, do you agree or disagree about our assessment? Well, let’s hear it!

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62 thoughts on “FlixChatter Double Reviews: Gangster Squad

  1. I love these joint reviews. I will probably share your opinions. I’m a little bummed the movie wasn’t better. I have to say I think Gosling and Stone are necessary…to the producers, who want to attract the 18-34 demographic 😉

    1. Thanks Paula. Well so that explains why I didn’t like ’em as I’m outside of that demographic, ahah. But truly, they don’t add barely anything to the story and not much chemistry between ’em either. I’m more annoyed by Gosling than Stone, though I could do without either of them here.

    2. Ted S,

      Yeah, the studio wants to attract the younger audience so they need to have young actors in the film. I don’t mind it but those characters needs to fit into the story not because they need to be in the movie. But like I said, the people behind scenes didn’t know what they were doing.

      1. Ruth, I am outside of it too 😉 I like them both, but I completely agree — if you’re going to have characters in a movie, it ought to make sense. Kind of a waste of talent.

        1. I think people generally like seeing Emma + Ryan together as they were supposedly good in Crazy Stupid Love (I haven’t seen it yet) but I really don’t see them as having even a decent chemistry in this one. It was like they’re just playing dress up at a party.

  2. I just skimmed through because when I see this it will be for Enos so I’m glad you mentioned her. She’s a TV actor who also does stage work and is also in that Brad Pitt World War Z film coming up. I think she’s a great actor, so I was curious to see how she worked in this.

    1. I couldn’t NOT mention Enos. She’s very good here. Her role is brief but when she’s on screen you take notice. I like the fact that she’s not a cookie-cutter Hollywood beauty, I mean she’s attractive in an intriguing kind of way. I just realized she’s in The Killing. I’d love to see her doing more films.

  3. Hi, Ted, Ruth and company:

    ‘Gangster Squad’ sounds like a bigger budgeted, slovenly performed and executed ‘L.A. Confidential’ wannabe. I’m still a fan of Nick Nolte, so there is some impetus to see it. Though not at a theater. Maybe as a rental or on HBO.

    Memo to Hollywood:

    Big explosions and lots of violence is not going to help a project if it stinks on ice!

    1. Hi Jack! Nolte is all right, but he’s not given much to do. His work in ‘Warrior’ is far more compelling. Yeah, just rent this one Jack. That’s one memo Hollywood should abide by!

      1. Ted S,

        I love big explosions and shoot outs but the violence needs to fit into the movie, in this film those sequences were there to just fill the run time or to please the audience who wants to see action scenes.

      2. Hi, Ruth:

        I caught ‘Warrior’ a few weeks ago, when I had free access to STARZ through Dish.

        Couldn’t agree with you more on Nolte’s trying to recover drunken father. There’s a kind of world weary dignity in Nolte’s later performances. Very much like Robert Mitchum.

        Tom Hardy’s few scenes with Nolte were some the the film’s most heart wrenching and memorable. No matter how much Hardy sneered or blustered, he always seemed to pull back at the last moment, because he still loved and respected his dad.

  4. If you liked Mireille Enos you really owe it to yourself to see AMC’s The Killing, I don’t think she wore makeup the entire show which is pretty brave for a then unestablished actress. It’s a slowly paced show but it’s never boring. None of that CSI crap.

    Ruth as far as Gosling goes the first film I saw him might change your mind if any film of his will. I’ve probably talked about this film before. It’s an indie called The Believer. He plays a neo-Nazi skinhead that is actually a self-loathing Jew. It was loosely based on a true story. Written and directed by Henry Bean it’s similar to American History X, Romper Stomper or This Is England. His little seen performance was every bit as good as Ed Norton’s, Russell Crowe’s or Stephen Graham’s (who I gave a shout out previously). Gosling is just absolutely riveting and tragic all at once. I would have never guessed he got his start in The New Mickey Mouse Club along with Spears, Aguilera, Timberlake and Keri Russell. He certainly turned the corner with this movie. Back in 2001 it won the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Check it out.

    BTW, probably not seeing Gangster Squad anytime soon. Looks less like The Untouchables and more like Dick Tracy with Sean Penn’s distorted face. LOL.

    1. Ted S,

      Wow I totally forgot about The Believer, thanks for reminder Dave. I agree I thought Gosling was excellent in it. I think I prefer to see him in those darker films, like Drive and his upcoming thriller, Only God Forgives.

  5. I think I’ll just check it out on DVD, the poster and the trailer are so bad…I don’t know why Hollywood can’t make gangster movies properly anymore – Public enemies was awful, Lawless was misguided and now this…Enos is a great actress, I saw her on TV series ” The Killing”, cool that she is getting parts in big movies now.

    1. I was disappointed with Public Enemies too, but it’s still better than this. I think gangster movies should be gritty, and this film is anything but. Regardless of how one feels about Guy Ritchie, that guy sure knows how to create a realistic world for those Sherlock Holmes movies, you can practically smell the dirt and the soil beneath. Enos is very talented, I do hope she gets more work.

  6. Happened to have seen it today and personally I loved the film, sure it’s a simple action movie set in the gangster era, but I really enjoyed the ride.

  7. I’m sorry to say this looked bad right off from any of the trailers I caught. And when I saw Nick Nolte (of ‘Mulholland Falls’ infamy for folks like me) there, well that was the early warning for this film. As an Angeleno who knows a bit of local history, and with an appreciation of great crime noir featuring the city of Los Angeles the likes of ‘Chinatown’, ‘L.A. Confidential’, ‘Devil in a Blue Dress’, ‘True Confessions’, etc. relate, obvious commercial tripe like this I find insulting as a movie viewer. Even the studios just about admitted as much when they delayed (care of that theater scene in the early trailers after that horrific TDKR shooting last July) and released the film in the dumping ground of January. Either way, great reviews on both of your parts, Ruth and Ted.

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Michael and yeah after I saw the trailers, I thought it looked really lame. I think the film makers just had now clue what they were doing.

      Totally forgot about Mullholland Falls, maybe it’s a good thing?

    2. Hi Michael, I’ve been curious to hear your thought as a longtime LA resident. Yeah, it’s definitely not going to satisfy fans of true crime noir. You’ll find it way too glossy and sleek but empty. At least it did ‘live up to’ its trailers and poster though 😉

    1. Ted S.

      Thanks Mark, hope you’ll enjoy it better than we did. Yeah just go in with low expectations and you might like it; I went in with no expectations and ended up hating it.

        1. Ted S,

          The script is so generic and full of cliches, I don’t think even the greatest actors in Hollywood can save this movie. Besides most of them seemed bored or over act in their respective roles.

  8. ..the first major film disappointment of 2013 then…? I’ve heard it is a leave-your-brain-at-the-door type of film so I’ll see it with that mindset with your above warnings…

    1. It’s not quite the ‘leave-your-brain-at-the-door’ type, I mean it’s not THAT bad. It’s just for a crime story like this, one expects a bit more depth and layers and I just didn’t find it here.

  9. agreed. this one was just so-so. entertaining, mind you, but just so-so.

    haha, i wonder what it would’ve been like with Mickey Rourke in the place of Sean Penn. I actually didn’t mind Sean Penn.

    and Ted, I, too, thought the same thing about Nolte’s aging.

    Great double review here guys! I gave it the same score as you, Ruth.

    1. Ted S.

      LOL, yeah I know. It’s been a while since I saw a movie with Nolte in it but man he did not aged well at all. But he’s always looked old even in his younger years.

    2. Hi T, glad we’re in agreement once again. I don’t know if Rourke would be like as Cohen but at least they wouldn’t have to put so much makeup on him, ahah.

      Btw, I haven’t finished my ZDT review but I agree w/ your rating as well.

    1. Yeah, if you already have doubts about this then I’d trust your instincts. The all-star cast might impress some people, but for me it’s the supporting cast who are more fun to watch.

  10. Thank you for the reviews Ruth and Ted.
    I honestly thought it was going to be something great…just look at the cast! but reading this makes me prefer to watch it only when I have it for free (meaning TV or someone lend me the DVD)

    1. The cast doesn’t always guarantee quality, and this one is a great example of that. I wouldn’t go rushing to see it unless you REALLY love one of the actors. I can’t remember you liking Gosling or Brolin that much??

            1. I’ve only seen him in The Notebook and this one, so I guess I wasn’t too impressed with either. Not interested in Drive, but that Lars and the Real Girl one sounds interesting, might give that a try.

  11. Great reviews! Can’t say I’m that excited for this film, but I do want to see it for the talented cast involved. However, I loved Public Enemies and liked Lawless, so I might be more forgiving of its flaws.

    1. I’d say just rent this one Josh. But if you love this genre maybe you’ll like this more than Ted and I. I was disappointed w/ Public Enemies, though still better than this one.

  12. Pingback: Gangster Squad: Au Contraire… | Rorschach Reviews

    1. Ted S.

      Yeah pretty much, unfortunately the style wasn’t even that good since the director of this film copied so many styles from other/better directors.

  13. Well I have not seen it but again, the January “dumps” always give me pause. Like you said Ruth a turkey like this goes down because of a hokey script and/or director who does not have a properly codified vision for where to take the audience.

    1. I’m not saying ALL films released in January is bad, I mean ZDT is out this weekend and it’s definitely a few notches above this one. I think the direction is my main beef, but the script didn’t help either.

      1. No worries – I know you are not saying that. I am 😉 You must also remember I am a spoiled NYer so so around awards time films like ZDT come out in December.

  14. I was actually looking forward to this film earlier in 2012, but all of the talk and the corny trailers have put it on my “wait for DVD/Blu-Ray to come out list”.
    Though I don’t share your dislike for Brolin, Penn or Gosling as actors (not necessarily as people), I’m not surprised to hear that they’re not anywhere close to their best in here. Sean Penn can be a hit-or-miss, but Brolin usually delivers the goods. I thought he was stupendous in “Milk” and deserved the accolades he received from it. I was equally impressed with him in “W.” which I thought was a much more layered and interesting film that I originally expected.

    Good reviews, very interesting to see how both of your thoughts compared.

  15. As usual, great job with your review Ruth! I was disappointed with this film. Based on the cast, I thought it would be something to look forward to seeing, but as you mentioned, it really lacked some grit. More brains and more brawn would’ve made this film much better; not to mention the addition of a director that has already done films of that genre.

    1. Hi Raul. It’s really too bad. I think it could’ve been a lot better given the story. I don’t know if different actors would ‘save’ this film, but a different director who isn’t too flashy would certainly steer this in the right direction.

  16. Pingback: LAMBScores: Maya's Gangster Squad Haunts Bin Laden | The Large Association of Movie Blogs

  17. Pingback: Gangster Squad: Au Contraire… | Rorschach Reviews

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