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.
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.
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.
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.
|2 out of 5 reels|
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.
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.
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.
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!