I always love a movie based on a true story and in this case it’s the downfall of maniacal criminal kingpin Mickey Cohen. In real life Cohen was sent to Alcatraz for IRS tax evasion but nobody wants to watch that on the big screen. We want drama, seduction, blood, revenge and a whole lotta tommy guns simultaneously going off. So I suppose the story telling is not truthful but it makes an entertaining watch. Fleischer tries hard to tackle a “true” crime drama but I think he falls shorts in the genre of gritty film noir.
Set after the war in 1949, the film follows the ongoing rivalry between Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who is hellbent on becoming the head honcho of the Los Angeles underworld and Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a boring one dimensional LA cop with the emotional capacity of a corpse. O’Mara is tasked by Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) with cleansing LA of the problem that is Cohen, his brutes and the illegal racketeering he has going on.
Chief Parker gives O’Mara the thumbs up to assemble a discreet, off-the-books posse and with the help of his no nonsense wife Connie he enlists Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) and a random but clever group of detectives (Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña and Giovanni Ribisi) in a rather cheery violent romp through a mob-infested Los Angeles.
The usually fantastic cast are all held accountable to this mismatched film, despite having to deliver dialogue that no one could walk away from unscathed. Penn gives a good performance but he is too over the top compared dulled down actors around him and with his prosthetic face and twangy type accent he might as well be an actual cartoon on the screen.
His love interest Grace Faraday (Emma stone) is a complete failure as a character. Who in God’s name thought she would be convincing as a femme fatale? A mob boss’s lady and a gangster’s moll? Well the casting agents saw something Fleischer could not bring to life on the screen. She looks every bit the modern day 24 year old girl. Jessica Rabbit pulled off a better performance in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit”.
Gangster Squad is a movie with a lazy story meshed together for audiences just for the sake of making a film. It might have been better if more energy had been put in and Beall had thought his screenplay through, but it ended up being a con job as it lacked any originality or depth.
The blames falls solely at director Ruben Fleischer, a man who clearly has no understanding or appreciation of the 1940-50s period, for if he did he wouldn’t shoot what should have been the most entertaining scenes in slow motion. It worked beautifully in Pete Travis’ 2012 movie Dredd, but here I found myself laughing at Fleischer.
Ultimately, the film is all about instant gratification, almost as much for the characters as for the viewer. On a production note, considerable effort has been expended to reproduce Hollywood Boulevard and other city parts the way they supposedly looked in the transitional days and nights of the late 1940s. The costumes also hit the mark – but then again all of that is easy to come by. It’s a shame the writing and directing partnership between Fleischer and Beall showed us nothing but perhaps they should both steer well clear of trying to re-write history whilst having no motivation to make a decent film.
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Stars: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Josh Pence
Screenplay: Will Beall
Runtime: 113 mins Cert: 15
Enjoy the trailer
Gangster Squad (2013)