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Film Review: “Gangster Squad”

Written by: josh | January 10th, 2013

   With how great the trailer looks plus the outstanding ensemble cast, one would think that Gangster Squad should be a contender for best picture of year.  Shockingly, there is absolutely nothing special about this gangster noir film.  If you go into the theater with high expectations of seeing the next Goodfellas or any other classic gangster film, you will be beyond disappointed.  In reality, Gangster Squad is just another over the top shoot-em-up movie.


   Set in 1949 Los Angeles, Gangster Squad is based on the takedown of the notorious gangster, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn).  Mickey Cohen basically controls Los Angeles to the point where he can pay off police and judges enough to get away with murder.  Nick Nolte plays the chief of police and he is sick of what Los Angeles is turning into.  His solution is to take down Mickey Cohen’s entire organization.  To do this, he approaches Josh Brolin and tells him to put together a small squad to humiliate Cohen and run him out of town.  What the squad will be doing is completely illegal and out of jurisdiction but they will be doing it as civilians and not cops.  The squad consists of many famous actors including Ryan Gosling, Michael Pena, and Anthony Mackie.


   The actors, the setting, and the premise for this film sounds too good to be true.  And that’s exactly what it was.  Perhaps I was way too excited for this film and my expectations were far too great.  But how could I not get excited?  I’m a sucker for 1940s Los Angeles and I’m a sucker for gangster movies.  Then I see the list of all the magnificent actors in the film to the point where I couldn’t help but get excited.  The only thing that was missing from Gangster Squad was the director.  Warner Bros. chose Ruben Fleischer to direct this movie.  What a terrible choice for a noir gangster film!  Fleischer has only made comedies including Zombie Land and 30 Minutes or Less.  I’m not saying those are bad movies, but I certainly would not pick a comedic director to make a film like this and ask him to handle this A-list cast.  Fleischer had no clue what to do with the cast.  Every actor in this film has great potential but none of them, with the exception of Sean Penn, got to show off their acting chops.  Every scene, and I mean every scene, was the squad going into a room with guns blazing.  You can hire any actor to shoot a gun.  While bring in top dollar actors to do that?  The only actor who actually acted was Sean Penn.  He was great as the crime lord of Los Angeles.  Penn was creepy, witty, and very fun to watch.  Without Penn, Gangster Squad would have been a disaster.


   I was really pulling for this film.  I wanted to love Gangster Squad, but instead I only liked it.  It’s so hard to go wrong with this type of story, but Fleischer managed to go completely in the wrong direction with this movie.  At the beginning of the film, they say this is based on a true story.  That makes it even worse because there’s nothing out of the ordinary or anything remotely special that these characters did to make this a compelling story.  All it is, is guys shooting guns.  Who cares?  My advice to you if you’re thinking about seeing Gangster Squad, is to go in with lower expectations than I did.  That way, you’ll probably end up enjoying it.  Also, if you haven’t seen the trailer, don’t watch it!  The trailer is outstanding and the film simply doesn’t live up to the hype that the trailer builds.  Gangster Squad, for what it was (another cliché action film), is a good movie with some fun moments.  But it should have been amazing and it just wasn’t.  In a couple of years, no one will even remember this film exists.  B

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