Last minute reshoots to avoid romanticizing theater shootings caused the postponement of “Gangster Squad” from a fall to winter release. Finally released on Jan. 11, roughly four months behind schedule, “Gangster Squad” is a critical bomb but seems to be appealing to the average public.
Based on real events in the 1940s and 1950s, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a boxer-turned-mobster plotting his claim on L.A. Recruited by Chief Parker (Nick Nolte), war hero Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) leaves the rules and dishonesty of the police force to create a rebel task force to destroy Cohen’s operation. Meanwhile, his number one recruit, Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) is having an affair with Cohen’s main girl, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone).
Ruben Fleischer, director of “Zombieland,” is a fan of extreme violence. One of the earliest scenes in “Gangster Squad” involves a man getting ripped apart. Though the rest of the film is less graphic, the amount of violence is consistently over-the-top. For those looking for a classy period drama, this is not your movie; the costumes and sets evoke the time, but the action is all 21st century.
“Gangster Squad” goes through the motions of a good drama but has no development of characters or relationships. Sean Penn is always good at everything he does, but his villain is only evil because of the extreme violence shown in the film. Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, and Emma Stone are all their personable selves, but none has any decent dialogue with which to work. Every other character is a cliché token representing the necessary stereotypes, wasting the talents of Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, and Robert Patrick. It’s a fantastically talented cast, but the focus is placed more on the extreme violence than the talents of its stars.
The final third of “Gangster Squad,” especially the last shootout battle, is completely and totally ridiculous. A film can be bearable if it has a good ending, or its ending can ruin the whole film. For me, “Gangster Squad” is the latter. Machine guns inexplicably cannot hit people from roughly seven feet away, impossible fights occur, and everyone makes poor decisions.
I wanted to like it, feeling like a modern take on a James Cagney movie starring some of my favorites of Hollywood, but the style is too extreme to be as inconsistent as it is, there is no sincerity to its drama, and it is violent for the sake of style and not substance. The only movie that seems comparable is Warren Beatty’s “Dick Tracy,” but “Dick Tracy” lacks the absurd violence and has much better progression and characters.
Rating for “Gangster Squad:” C-
For more information on this film or to view its trailer, click here.
“Gangster Squad” is playing at most theaters in Columbus, including Gateway, but it has the most showtimes at AMC Easton. For showtimes, click here.