The first big release of 2013 hit theatres on Friday in the form of Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad”. This didn’t look like your usual January fair. An all star cast, originally slated to be released last September, but pushed for re-shots that were done for sensibility and not quality. “Gangster Squad” had the making of a potential hit. But instead of ringing in the New Year with a bang, “Gangster Squad” comes in with a whimper, its greatest sin the simple fact that it is ordinary.
What I mean by ordinary is there is a mob boss, who will do anything for power; a group of cops who are determined to bring him down, and plenty of shoot-outs. Those are the staples of any gangster film, and “Gangster Squad” has them, just not much else. The film tries to add some greater meaning to its exploits, by questioning how far can the good guys go before they become the bad guys, but it is only a thought in the back of their minds and never truly affects their decision making.
So the story adds nothing to the gangster film genre, what about the style of filmmaking? Short answer is no. The only true bit of style that Fleischer adds to the film is the use of slow-mo in a handful of actions sequences, primarily with no particular motive other than it’ll look cool. Fleischer came on the scene a few years ago with the action-comedy “Zombieland”; this film was his first real dip into a more straightforward action/drama type of film, and it didn’t really pan out.
Fleischer was just a minute detail, however, when it came to any excitement that people had for this film. The fact that Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, some of the best character actors in the industry, and Sean Penn as the gangster Mickey Cohen were what was going to put people in the seats. This talented group of actors all seem to be sleepwalking through this film though, save for Penn. Penn tries to do his best Robert De Niro as Al Capone impression, but it proves to be uninspired.
A lot of that has to do with the fact that no one except for Josh Brolin character has any real arc or backstory. Brolin’s character is an ex-army man, who believes in honor and duty, and doesn’t believe in compromising them. But everyone else, they’re just cops that Mickey Cohen couldn’t buy, so guess that makes them good enough. Even Penn’s Cohen is minimally developed; bad guys don’t have to be extremely deep, but the story tries to give him some and just doesn’t do it effectively.
Now none of this means that it is an awful movie. It does a good job depicting late 1940s Los Angeles. The action sequences are decent, and the overall structure of the story works. There is just nothing memorable, nothing that separates itself from its predecessors in the genre.
You do have to look at the fact that this film was delayed for reshoots. However, that happened after the tragedy in Aurora to replace a shoot-out scene that took place in a theatre so as not to draw comparisons. The change has no effect on the story, it simply changes set pieces. So whether the film was delayed or not, these problems still would have been there.
There was hope that January might have brought some unusual quality this year, instead audiences would be better off to catch up on some of the recently nominated Oscar films that are still in theatres.