Directed By: Ruben Fleischer
Written By: Will Beall
Based On The Book By: Paul Lieberman
Cinematography By: Dion Beebe
Editor: Alan Baumgarten & James Herbert
Cast: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Michael Pena, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Mireille Enos, Troy Garity, Nick Nolte De’Aundre Bonds, Giovanni Ribisi, Jon Polito, Michael Bacall, Don Harvey, Derek Mears
It’s 1949 Los Angeles, and gangster Mickey Cohen has moved in, with the intention of controlling all criminal activity in the city. He has bought local judges and police, and no one is willing to cross him or testify against him. Everyone except Seargant John O’Mara, a former World War II soldier, whose goal is to settle with his family in a peaceful Los Angeles. Police Chief William Parker decides to form a special unit whose mission is to take down Cohen, and chooses O’Mara to lead the unit. O’Mara chooses 4 cops and asks another cop and vet, Jerry Wooters to join him but Wooters is not interested. But when he witnesses the murder of a young boy by Cohen’s people, he joins them, and they decide to take apart Cohen’s organization. Cohen wonders if a rival is going after him, but eventually he realizes it’s the cops.
While the film has a certain impressive style in some scenes. It ultimately feels like nothing too special though it tries to present itself as something fresh. It ultimately feels like an attempt at dress up by adults. A big game of cops and robbers with real expensive toys.
In the movie, the Gangster Squad is assembled to go after Mickey Cohen. However, in real life Chief W.H. Parker set up the squad to prevent other gangsters from taking over Cohen’s rackets after Cohen went to prison on income tax evasion. Whenever the squad learned that out-of-town gangsters were coming to Los Angeles to try to set up new operations, the Gangster Squad would kidnap them, beat them up (some rumors say torture) and then send them back to wherever they came from with the warning that if they ever returned, they would be killed.
The film is boiling over with testosterone so much so that no violent act can be simple. It has to be over the top graphic, violent and tough. Which is fine To a degree as many films these days seem to lack toughness looking at it as too in politically correct. Then the film spends most of the time then trying to make these tough characters appealing by showing them being sensitive in relationships with their families giving a sense of who they are doing it for before them. Showing a scene of them pummeling a suspect.
Then there is a love story in the middle of this that starts out tawdry then turns romantic out of nowhere. Yet there is no motivation for it other then to attract females to the film ad to capitalize on Ryan goslings following as a sex symbol. By the end of the film they give the romance a reason to be there but it feels rather thin and stretching.
They even have a multi-ethnic squad that feels there only to give the film a broader audience. As the roles aren’t that defined other than their ethnicity . Hell they even bring out a gunslinger from the old west. All that was missing was a meter maid female who wants to move up in the department see some real action and is getting tired of her limited options in the department.
Ryan Gosling goes for an accent that seems out of place and a little daring to try something different in this studio film, unfortunately it gets to be more comedic after awhile. He seemed more interested in trying to look cool and play a detached playboy.
Emma Stone is perfectly cast as she is sexy, witty and fits into the time period she has hat classic screen Siren look.
Sean Penn is ok in his scenery chewing role though made up like a Dick Tracy-ish villain. More letting the Make-up do the work for him, His role is to play the villain to the hilt with no humanity or morals. He succeeds as more of a tough action film villain then a gangster. . Plus what was with the make-up. He is made to accentuate his character being Jewish? To prove he has a chip on his shoulder or maybe a complex so he goes overboard proving how much of a tough guy he is? The film even has an ending that after a shoot out the villain and hero have to have a fistfight
The film even has an ending that after a shoot out the villain and hero have to have a fistfight. That is one of many ways the film departs from historical accuracy. it made me wonder was this a prequel to MILK that both Penn and Brolin acted in and were adversaries.
The film is based on a True story but it is obvious the film takes a bunch of liberties with the tale ending with a film that feels like it has a bunch of energy and enthusiasm for a rather thin tale. That feels like it can only have been made today rather than yesteryear or anywhere near it’s time period.
With the casting of Nick Nolte the film does bring back memories of the film MULLHOLLAND FALLS which he starred in 20 years ago and had so much promise with a similar tale. That had more of a mystery and felt a bit more genuine but whose quality wasn’t as good not direction as solid.
Though this film was rewritten after much of the third act revolved around a movie theater shoot out massacre that was removed due to the shooting during a midnight showing of the dark knight returns.
The original trailer for this movie was pulled after the Aurora, Colorado Century 16 massacre due to a shot in which four gangsters fire machine guns through a projection screen into a crowded movie theater. Warner Bros. then ordered the film back into production for a re-shoot of the scene, necessitating a rescheduling of the film’s release and rewrite of the script
Plus as a squad that was supposed to be effective they seem to mess up their mission quote often do that they seem a bothersome squad to Sean Penn then really a threat. They seemed like they had the effect of street cops on major operations then a actual special force.
What works here is that Director Ruben Fleisher has an eye for action and period detail.
The film feels empty very stylized like we’ve seen it before feels boring as it barely engages you. Feels bloated yet doesn’t have a long running time
It’s not a total waste of time, but don’t get our hopes up.