Coming off the back of two comedy thrillers in Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less, director Ruben Fleischer tackles the gangster flick, trying his hand at something a little more dramatic and earnest than his previous work. However, Gangster Squad maintains a similar joviality and rather than being an in-depth, crime drama, instead we have a film that is merely good fun. Not a problem as such, but given the stellar cast assembled, you’d hope for something a little more than just “good fun”.
Inspired by real events, we delve into 1940s Los Angeles, where mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) rules the roost, controlling organised crime and drug circulation across the entire city, with a host of judges and policemen paid to keep schtum. However, the one law enforcer who is fed up with Mickey’s power is Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), and when given the green light from his boss (Nick Nolte) he assembles together a squad to help take down this insatiable crime lord. Not to actually kill him, but to drive him out of the state of California.
O’Mara brings together a squad consisting of five skilled fellow officers, including the likes of Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) and Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) amongst others. Initially Wooters takes a while to persuade given the difficulty that lies within the task ahead, but when his love interest Grace (Emma Stone) – a close friend of Mickey’s – finds her life is under threat, he too gets involved with the affectionately named ‘Gangster Squad’.
If there is one thing you can’t deny Gangster Squad, is that it’s a good, enjoyable cinematic experience, as a film that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and revels in its clichéd approach. It tells a fun story, with an eclectic mix of influences rife within the movie, from the likes of The Untouchables, Bugsy Malone and Goodfellas. However with palpable attempts at paying homage to such great films, the bar does become suitably raised, therefore highlighting the fact that this particular title isn’t quite as good.
The feature is also extremely stylish and slick in its approach, yet feels somewhat contrived because of this. There are a host of slow-motion sequences, from Christmas tree shoot-outs, to the flicker of a lighter, to the bullets falling out of a gun, gently crashing against the ground. Once or twice this particular technique may prove to be effective – like in Killing Them Softly, for instance – but Fleischer implements it far too often to have any impact.
Such a criticism extends to the screenplay also, as Gangster Squad is full to the brim of supposedly sharp and witty one liners. Some of which work, granted, but again they are used so often it simply becomes unnatural. There is one moment when Gosling strides over to Stone, using the old holding-out-a-lighter-for-her-cigarette-before-she-had-time-to-ask technique (always works for me), yet instead of coming across as cool and slick as Fleischer no doubt intended, it seems too obvious and therefore rather uncool, provoking quite the opposite effect.
This could also be down to the fact that there is little chemistry between Gosling and Stone within this movie, a shame and certainly something of a surprise given the pair have it in abundance in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Meanwhile, Gosling is his typical charming, charismatic self, although herein lies a screenplay written to suit the actor, deliberately catering to his particular brand of engaging appeal. Although the performances across the board are impressive, with Brolin and Penn standing out predominantly, there simply isn’t any depth to any given role, leaving us short of emotional investment to the overall story.
Nonetheless, as long as you take Gangster Squad for what it is and view it as the light-hearted (albeit very violent) drama that it’s intended to be, you’re bound to enjoy yourself, as despite this title’s many shortcomings, Fleischer does hold your attention, and keeps you in line with the narrative throughout. However it’s certainly lacking in depth and intelligence and on the most part is rather forgettable. Perhaps he should just stick to comedies.