IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 113 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1948, post-World War 2 Los Angeles, gangster Mickey Cohen has become the most powerful figure in the California criminal underworld, and intends to continue to expand his criminal enterprise to Chicago and New York. The police have not been able to stop Cohen’s ruthless rise, as Cohen has eliminated witnesses and bribed both the court and the police, controlling both illegal and legal sides of L.A. Determined to put a stop to all this, LA Police Chief Bill Parker creates a secret police unit with the sole mission of stopping Cohen and bringing him to justice. Calling themselves the “Gangster Squad”, the unit sets out to destroy Cohen’s criminal operations……
I wonder if many critics have missed the point somewhat with Gangster Squad, which is in no way intended to be a Great Gangster Epic like The Godfather, Goodfellas etc. Instead, it comes across more as a kind of dumbed down The Untouchables, and on that level is reasonably enjoyable for a while until the constant barrage of beatings and scenes that last around a minute long [a horrible feature of much TV these days sadly including such popular fare as Downtown Abbey which shows that it is becoming the norm] becomes rather tiring. This is the gangster movie reduced to its barest essentials of Borsalino hats and Tommy guns. It is designed merely to entertain, but eventually becomes rather grating, and it’s also a great shame that a far more interesting story exists in the story’s background. The film’s chief villain was one of the most intriguing of real-life gangsters, a religious child who began a career as a boxer and then rose up the crime ladder and in the process became a celebrity who ingratiated himself with Hollywood stars.
No, instead it’s just almost two hours of goodies shooting it out with baddies. Well, kind of. The vigilante cops in this movie are as brutal as the gangsters, and while I have no problem with watching ‘heroes’ who break the law onscreen to do their job, the fact that the film never seems to question their methods is rather dubious. It is one thing cheering Arnold Schwarzenegger when he quickly dispatches a bad guy with a quip, but it seems that here we are supposed to cheer as Ryan Gosling pours acid on somebody’s flies. I found all this peculiarly refreshing at first, but by the end I really was left with a bad taste in my mouth. It doesn’t help that the script seems mostly to have been cobbled together from bits and pieces of other gangster films, some dating back to the 30’s, and that once you reach the half way point you will probably know every twist and turn from then on.
Gangster Squad moves like a bullet and never loses its helter-skelter pace, and its lack of attempt at any kind of depth is almost refreshing, but it seriously struggles when it comes to the bits in-between its action. You aren’t given the opportunity to care about anyone and most of the characters are from stock anyway. The majority of the cast, and I include the usually great Ryan Gosling here, seem a bit lost and unsure as to whether they are in a send-up or a serious movie as they deliver their often shoddy dialogue. Even though his performance has been criticized by many, for me the member of the cast who seems to work best in it is Sean Penn. His psychopathic character, who is so horrid that it’s a wonder anyone works for him, may be nothing like the real Mickey Cohen, but his gleefully over the top, scenery chewing performance seems to suit the film. It’s not like, for instance, Jack Nicholson’s Joker, who seriously unbalanced the film he was in despite its many good features, partly because he seemed to be acting in a different one to its caped hero.
The film looks pretty good and the action doesn’t suffer as much from bad camerawork as many films do at the moment, though it seriously lacks a “wow” sequence like that pram going down the steps in The Untouchables. At least this film gives the impression of being directed by a fairly competent human being [though this is nowhere as good as Ruben Fleischer’s Zombieland] rather than a monkey like Les Miserables, where people seem to be revelling in the great story and music so much that they are willing to ignore the dreaful direction on display. I guess if you totally switch your brain off and let the constant forward motion [combined with a bit of slow-motion which may be overused but which I always enjoy seeing onscreen when so much else appears to be speeded up] wash all over your then you may enjoy it. For me, the experience of watching Gangster Squad is like having one of those nights out when you overdo it too early, you kind of have a good time but it all passes in a blur and you feel pretty bad the next day.