While I did tell you all about my plan to see every nationwide release of 2013, I left out a very key bit from that plan; to completely avoid any sort of reviews for movies (mainly Rotten Tomatoes) before seeing it. For the first three films I saw this year, my opinions ended up matching pretty closely with the overall opinions of each. Gangster Squad represents the first movie of the year for which I strongly disagree with the bulk of the reviews I saw for the film after seeing it, and as a result I’m going to devote the last section of my review to the issues other reviewers have taken with the film and why they did not ruin the experience for me. While it doesn’t do much that hasn’t been done before, Gangster Squad mixes a lively tone with shallow yet highly likable characters to produce a surprisingly entertaining film.
Los Angeles, 1949: A secret crew of police officers led by two determined sergeants work together in an effort to take down the ruthless mob king Mickey Cohen who runs the city.
When it comes down to it, Gangster Squad isn’t exactly ground-breaking in its premise or its plot. Because of that, the effectiveness of the movie comes down to how well the cast could make us care about the bad things happening to the good characters. I’ll admit that there’s not a huge amount of development for anyone except O’Mara (Josh Brolin), but each of the six members of the gangster squad are given more than enough fun dialogue to make you give a crap whether they live or die. Sure, the sheer number of protagonists makes it pretty obviously that not all of them are going to make it out alive, but I felt like I liked them all enough for none of them to feel “expendable”.
I’d have to say that one thing I agree with people on is that Ryan Gosling is the stand out here once again. His nasally, 50′s style voice was a bit weird to me at first, but the guy just makes it so god-damn easy to pull off smooth that he could probably have landed Emma Stone in any number of fake accents. Speaking of Ms. Stone, I love her as an actress but I couldn’t shake the “been there, done that” feeling I got from her scenes with Gosling after their much superior pairing in Crazy, Stupid Love. I guess someone had to prevent it from being too much of a sausage fest, Mireille Enos couldn’t handle it all by herself.
Finally we have Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen, who was featured just as prominently in the film as any one of the real main characters in every trailer that came out for the movie. I really don’t think Penn deserves the amount of negativity that’s been directed at his role here, but I consistently felt like Cohen was the most stereotypically written and overall weakest character of the entire film. He’s given many standard, badass-gangster monologues, but there were a lot of times when those lines felt way too much like somebody from 2012 trying to sound like a 50′s gangster than an actual 50′s gangster.
One consistantly repeated sentiment I’ve seen in a lot of reviews for this movie is that it is trying to be something more than it is. While I did feel that at times (none more so than during Brolin’s over-seriousl voiceovers at the beginning and end of the movie), I still felt like the tone that Gangster Squad is pursuing more often than not is one of blood-soaked fun. It’s easy to look at anything from the time period and say that it’s just trying to be L.A. Noire (for you gamers) or L.A. Confidential (for you cinefiles), but if you’re someone like me who wasn’t comparing the film to either of those two, I think you’ll enjoy it far more as a stand-alone film.
As a final note, I think that I may just be a big fan of Director Ruben Fleischer. I have yet to see 30 Minutes or Less, but between this and Zombieland (Which I LOVE), Fleischer just seems to do a good job of managing characters that I have fun watching. As long as he keeps finding decent scripts and capable casts, I think he has a bright future ahead of him.
The Verdict: 7.0/10 Good
+ Increased emotional investment in characters; I cared who lived and who died
+ Oh Ryan Gosling, you beautiful scoundrel, you…
+ A script that does a decent job of setting an enjoyably fun atmosphere
- Occasionally takes itself too seriously, avoids moral pitfalls
P.S. You’ll notice that the theater mass-shooting scene from the original trailers was not only taken out of the trailers following the tragedy in Aurora, CO, but entirely cut from the film
Rotten Tomatoes: 32%
The Bishop Review: 4/5
Mercifully Short Reviews: 7/10
Dan the Man Movie Reviews: 6.5/10
Marked Movies: 6/10
Fast Film Reviews: 2.5/5
The Focused Filmographer: 2.5/5
The Code is Zeek: 2/5
Average: 5.9/10 – Passable