So here’s the unfortunate truth about Gangster Squad, the one I could never have expected based on the trailers. It’s boring. The parts that aren’t work well, and I’ll talk about what those are, but the truth is that poor structure, pacing, over-dramatic conversation, and most importantly inconsistency turn this into a game of “name the cliché.”
There’s no use summarizing the plot beyond good cop, bad gangster. The cops leave their badges at home, and take on the gangsters using heavy weaponry and explosives. The squad being composed mostly of War World II veterans, they seem to have no trouble in tactics of overt war and out-right murder in accomplishing their goals. The main problem here is that there is no Dirty Harry here, no Martin Riggs, despite this screenplay completely lifting scenes from those action movies. The main protagonist is Josh Brolin’s Sergeant O’Mara, a stubborn boy-scout, who is apparently one of the few police officers that are not for sale. He recruits, with copious oversight from his pregnant wife, a group of forgettable, underdeveloped misfits. The exception in the squad is Ryan Gosling, who, as usual, is delightful. He is a movie star in the true sense of old Hollywood, holding the screen captive with every look. He’s helped by having one of the two fun roles in the entire piece, too. He’s sarcastic, flirtatious, and when he looks down the barrel of a gun he has the determination required to sell a role like this. None of these are a revelation, exactly, we’ve seen enough of him in 2012 to know it, but he certainly helps the picture. The other genuinely fun character is Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen, the snarling, boxing villain. I feel like Penn has received a lot of very unfair criticism online for the portrayal. Yes, it is cartoonish. As is the rest of the movie. Few things can elevate an action movie like a memorable villain, and his character IS memorable. The fact is that the lines, as written, actually feel more believable when delivered by a cartoon than a human being; and humane, Cohen is not. Sean Penn, the man who played United States’ first openly gay politician, here plays a gangster that would put Tony Soprano to shame.
I truly feel that it’s these two actors that understand the tone this movie should have had. If the rest of it was, I’ll say it again, as FUN as those two characters were, it would be a blast! This movie screamed out to be closer in vision to Sin City than The Untouchables. The fact that different people involved in the making of the movie seemed to be pulling in different directions is what sunk the picture overall.
The writer, Will Beal, is already signed on for upcoming remake of the 1976 classic Logan’s Run, Lethal Weapon 5, and Justice League. I’m inclined to give the writer the benefit of the doubt in this case. After the Aurora shooting last year, a large portion of the movie was re-shot, and the movie has the general feel of being cut to bits. Therefore, perhaps the writing here is really not indicative of his general talent, but if it is, considering the projects he is supposed to be taking on next, the future of fantasy/action cinema looks bleak. The dialogue is stiff and artificial, the plot sometimes makes no sense whatsoever… Once again, it’s entirely possible that a different reading of the same lines might be delightful, I never expected a naturalistic take on the story. The way it was done, however, it simply did not work.
I really wanted to like Gangster Squad. I was really excited for it, and even hearing about other critics’ reaction, I went into the theater prepared for the movie to prove itself to me. Unfortunately, it simply did not rise to the considerable promise the talent involved showed.