Gangster Squad

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena

Written by: Will Beall and (based on the book) Paul Liberman

Running Time: 113 mins

Cert: 15

Release date: 10th January 2013

While I was watching Gangster Squad in a 1/3 full cinema, one film kept popping into my head and I couldn’t shake it. That of Brian De Palma’s now classic 1987 gangster movie, The Untouchables. I guess this was perfectly normal because this is an almost carbon copy of that great film. Only difference is that while the Kevin Costner masterpiece has plenty of style and substance, this tries to have style but doesn’t have too much substance.

Mickey Cohen wants to run Los Angeles. Infiltrating post-war 1940s City of Angels with drugs and prostitution, this hard-nosed, former boxer has everyone eating out of his hands; the police, the judges, lawyers, anyone willing to take a huge piece of Cohen’s empire. Except for Sergeant John O’Mara. He doesn’t care if he enters the gangster’s domain and stir up trouble. He doesn’t like what Cohen has done to the city he loves.

Recruited by the Chief of Police, O’Mara is told to get together a handful of trustworthy men and to stop Cohen, not by killing him but by crippling his sordid businesses. O’Mara does that, so with a faithful band of cops who don’t show their badges, they go after his drug delivery, his legitimate businesses and his clubs, in the knowledge that Cohen will eventually put the pieces together and find out who is behind the destruction of his world.

This has plenty of promise: an incredibly strong ensemble cast made up of Hollywood’s modern finest, the director who gave us the brilliantly underrated Zombieland and a return to good old gangster films set, not in modern times but in the era or real gangsters, the 1940s. The trouble is, this comes across as being, well, ordinary.

So whose to blame? Scriptwriter Will Beall has taken the true story, given it a twist here and there but it’s a little too bland. It’s like we’ve been through these streets hundreds of times before. All the elements are there: shootouts, a sassy dame, a psychopathic gangster, a saint of a cop leading more saints. It ticks the boxes that you would expect from this genre but it doesn’t seem to be enough.

Director Ruben Fleischer obviously wants us to have an Untouchables for the 21st century but the problem is he is trying too hard. The film is stuff full of slow-motion shots. Every time we have a shootout, we get it in slo-mo. De Palma used slow motion so effectively during the infamous railway steps scene in his film but he knew that was enough. Fleischer throws it around like he’s just learnt of its existence and wants everyone to share in his excitement. By doing that, he takes away any real tension and so when we should be biting our nails, wondering if the heroes will survive, we find ourselves saying “Oh good, another slow motion sequence!”

The performances are somewhat below par too, considering the cast. Josh Brolin, who single-handedly saved Men in Black 3, is perfectly fine and believable as O’Mara but that’s it, a perfectly adequate performance. The same could be said of the excellent Ryan Gosling. It doesn’t seem to be his fault, it’s just that fellow cop Jerry Wooters has no real back story for Gosling to get his teeth into.

Gangster Squad

Sean Penn, as Mickey Cohen, with prosthetic nose, is allowed to ham his way through the film, longing to be like Robert De Niro’s Al Capone. The one perosn who does come out looking good is Robert Patrick as an aging gun-slinger, given some of the better lines and playing the whole thing very laid back.

Emma Stone, however, is badly misused. Looking like a Hollywood starlet of the 40s, her part is so underwritten, any actress could have played it and no one would have cared. Even her relationship with Gosling, so strong in the brilliant romantic comedy, Crazy, Stupid, Love, here just doesn’t have any chemistry and they don’t sizzle like they should. Come on, they are the two hottest stars around, surely they should be allowed to burn up the screen?

Look, I didn’t hate this film, I just wanted more considering the talent involved. If films like The Untouchables and L.A. Confidential didn’t exist, I’d probably wouldn’t be harping on about it being ordinary but if you are going to make a gangster film with first rate actors involved, make sure it’s not a below-par copy of a classic.

3/5

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