Director Ruben Fleischer's "Gangster Squad" was probably already thrown into your "movies that will end up swimmin' with the fishes" pile after being bumped from its original September release. A movie being pushed back usually isn't a good sign, but the decision to move "Gangster Squad" mostly came from the Aurora, Colorado shooting last year with the movie theater shooting scene in the original trailer being the main culprit of not only the movie being moved to January but rewrites to the script and reshoots, as well. "Gangster Squad" was a mafia movie after all with a superb cast and trailers that looked promising. Maybe it was a great film that just drew a bad hand or maybe "great" is a bit of an overstatement.
Mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) has hung up his boxing gloves and has taken over the Los Angeles underground in 1949; drugs, women, and money all of it goes through Mickey Cohen. With the right people paid off, Cohen has the city of angels under the thumb of a madman. Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) is one of the only straight cops left who want to see Los Angeles return to its former glory. However with a child on the way and a war that's been over for some time now, O'Mara doesn't know when to stop fighting. Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) decides to put O'Mara in charge of a group of cops who are going to run Cohen out of the city by taking the law into their own hands off the books. With the help of a cop who's a switchblade expert (Anthony Mackie), an electronics specialist who puts his family first (Giovanni Ribisi), a cop who's deadly with a six-shooter (Robert Patrick) and his over ambitious sidekick (Michael Peña), and a man who puts drinking and taking women to bed above everything else (Ryan Gosling), O'Mara puts Parker's drastic and dangerous plan into motion since it's the only hope for Los Angeles.
When you first dive into "Gangster Squad," there seems to be a lot to enjoy. The movie opens with Mickey Cohen beating a punching bag with his fists before making an example out of some poor guy in the middle of nowhere and telling his buddy to let his people know that Mickey Cohen runs this town. Sean Penn has this incredible streak of insanity while Josh Brolin beats the hell out of a few guys, knocks teeth from their skulls with his bloodied fists, and displays this raw energy you never would've expected from the Los Angeles born actor. Once Ryan Gosling is introduced though with his incredibly awkward high pitched voice along with his reference to Mickey Mouse, you immediately begin to think Gosling is purposely channeling the 85 year old cartoon mouse.
Three of the main leads bleed together as the movie drudges on. Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Ryan Gosling all seem to be portraying similar characters as they all have sequences where they lose their cool and yell at the top of their lungs. Penn is obviously the most erratic of the three, but Cohen and O'Mara are two sides of the same coin with Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling) trailing right behind them. The most enjoyable cast member is Robert Patrick whose Officer Max Kennard is the only character that really feels well-rounded. He has this Doc Holliday quality to him that makes him incredibly skillful, but he also wants to see his sidekick Navidad (Peña) not only pick up on his teachings but succeed as well. Officer Coleman Harris (Mackie) is almost like a cheap knockoff of the Max Kennard character without the sidekick, the six shooters replaced with switchblades, and the charisma stripped away. Nearly everyone in "Gangster Squad" has this one dimensional bad ass quality to them and no follow up to make you really care about them. There's little to no charm to keep you intrigued. Emma Stone is perhaps the most disappointing since there's little more to her character other than being the fancy sought after filling of a clammy, sweaty, and volatile sandwich with Sean Penn as the dangerous piece of bread you forget to take the toothpick out of and Ryan Gosling as the drunken, soggy bottom that smells like an ash tray.
The camera work clumsily tumbles between being really eye-catching and somewhat amateur. There's a jailbreak sequence that takes place in the dark where every gunshot is this blinding flash of light that also results in a freeze frame after every shot. The long car chase is pretty intense with some interesting perspectives that get a little too carried away with trying to pull off more extravagant shots than what is actually needed. If you're a fan of swing music, then the score may appeal to you. Several pieces seem to be directly lifted from "The Dark Knight" and Sean Penn's line about talking to God and needing to "swear to him" didn't really help matters since it was almost like a blunt reference to "Batman Begins."
"Gangster Squad" originally came off as this emotionally charged crime picture, but it's actually overcharged with emotion some of the time. Sean Penn is venomous and explosive as Mickey Cohen, but his "Raging Bull" back story is kind of lame and the conclusion of his story is pretty laughable. The characters of the movie are written in a way that gets your attention, but they're not able to reel you in and keep you interested. The camera work gets on your nerves as often as it is impressive, but the ending which is nothing but Tommy gun warfare and guys beating each other to a bloody pulp is at least semi-satisfying. "Gangster Squad" is far from a masterpiece and its story structure and filmmaking techniques are riddled with bullet holes, but it's still better than the average movie released in the month of January.
Sources: imdb.com, joblo.com, gangstersquad.warnerbros.com