Gangster Squad * * *
Director: Ruben Fleischer.
Screenplay: Will Beall.
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Jack McGee, Jon Polito, Josh Pence, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton, John Aylward, James Carpinello, Don Harvey, Ambyr Childers, Frank Grillo, James Landry Hébert.
Although I’ve yet to see director Ruben Fleischer’s previous comedy film “30 Minutes Or Less“, I did manage to catch his debut “Zombieland” which injected a lot of humour and style in the zombie sub-genre. For his third film, he assembles one of the year’s most impressive casts and decides to drop the comedy and focus on a real-life crime story. His stylish approach is, once again, on show but unfortunately, his film suffers from a dreadfully threadbare script that fails to utilise his very talented ensemble or elaborate on a story with massive potential.
Los Angeles, 1949. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is determined to take hold of the city and muscle out any competition. Police Chief William Parker (Nick Nolte) has other ideas, though. He forms a squad of no-nonsense cops to fight back and puts World War II veteran John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) in charge of the operation. O’Mara assembles his crew and tackles Cohen’s organisation with the same brute force that the criminal acquired it with.
From the off-set, Fleischer doesn’t waste time in getting down to business. The brutality of Mickey Cohen is captured within the first few minutes by a scenery-chewing Sean Penn, on menacing form. Following suit, we are then introduced to Brolin’s strong arm of the law, charged with bringing this notorious gangster to justice. Straight away, Dion Beebe’s gorgeous cinematography and production designer Mather Ahmad manage to capture the glitz and grime of late 1940’s L.A. and it looks like we could be treated to something akin to Curtis Hanson’s sublime “L.A. Confidential“. Unfortunately, the look and feel is where the comparison ends. This isn’t anywhere near as tightly constructed as James Ellroy’s labyrinthine thriller and that’s the most frustrating part; it could have been. The elements are in place but the all-important script seems to have it’s concrete shoes on. The writing is repetitious and lazily strung together and for a film that’s seemingly focused on it’s characters, it ultimately fails to deliver anything that resembles a three-dimensional role for any of the impressive cast on show. Brolin, Gosling and Penn get most of the screen time but this is a role that’s completely beneath the abilities of Gosling as he takes a back seat to the other two and the talented likes of Ribisi, Mackie and especially Peña needn’t have turned up at all. It all but completely abandons the good work it sets out to do and resorts to stylistic action scenes that are drawn out and devour the latter half of the movie – eventually leading to nothing more than a shoot-em-up and an obligatory toe-to-toe thrown in for
good bad measure. Quite simply, the whole thing comes across as a poor case of cut-and-paste and squanders what little powerful scenes and performances it does possess.
It’s a real shame that this ended up so superficial when it had so much potential. Instead of being a passable piece of pulp with too much reliance on it’s star wattage, it could have been a solid addition to the gangster genre. I’m sure Fleischer believed in the material at one point but my Tommy-Gun’s not convinced.