daniel cohen is mad gangster…
Plot: Los Angeles, 1949. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) continues to expand his criminal empire on the West Coast. Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) enlists an idealistic cop (Josh Brolin) to lead an underground unit to take down Cohen once and for all.
Gangster Squad commits one of the biggest movie sins there is…tone inconsistency. Sometimes it’s campy, sometimes it’s serious, but most of the time it’s just plain dumb. While Gangster Squad has a plethora of entertaining moments and good share of acting, there’s just something about this movie that screams ‘television.’ And what a waste of a great cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi…what the hell? To attract so many good names, the script had to of been solid on paper, which means the man to blame for this is director Ruben Fleischer.
You’ll know Fleischer from Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less. While I’ve never seen Zombieland, I know it’s received very well. And I’m a big fan of the underrated 30 Minutes or Less. In the first ten minutes of Gangster Squad, I was actually digging the movie. It’s very silly, and even though that’s a bit jarring at first, it worked for me. The movie basically opens up with Mickey Cohen killing somebody that was straight out of Looney Tunes.
But Fleischer should stick with comedy, because his direction here is just horrendous. I was enjoying the campy style, but then he has to go and do things like slow motion dramatic moments, and artsy fartsy photographic still image action shots. While the stuff before was cartoonish in a good way, as the film progresses, it becomes cartoonish in a bad way. The reason why tone inconsistency is one of my biggest movie pet peeves is because when you can’t decide which way you want to go, you end up half-assing both, and that’s exactly what happens in Gangster Squad.
The pacing also sticks out like a sore thumb, especially with the dialogue. The dialogue is so on-the-nose, it’s cringe-worthy at times. There’s a big scene where Brolin has to give a pump up speech that basically leads into the climax, and I swear, it’s pretty much just ‘So, you guys in?’ ‘Yup.’ ‘Okay, let’s go.’ Wow…what drama.
The one thing I’ll say about this movie though is that the actors are putting in every ounce of charisma and energy into their roles, which elevated the film significantly. Poor Josh Brolin…I don’t know if he has a terrible agent, or he’s just really bad at reading scripts, but he manages to shine in a lot of below average movies (Men in Black 3, Jonah Hex anyone?). And once again, he does the same here as the ambitious Sgt. John ‘O’Mara, who’s fed up with Cohen’s reign of terror. Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, and Michael Pena also play great supporting roles as part of O’Mara’s ‘Gangster Squad.’ The group actually has a fun dynamic together, and should have been more of a focus, ala an Ocean’s Eleven.
My favorite character though was Sgt. Jerry Wooters, played by the one and only Ryan Gosling. Gosling’s charisma is bursting out of the screen, and every scene with Wooters were easily the highlights. I wish the movie spent more time with the relationship between him and Cohen’s girlfriend Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone, as opposed to O’Mara and his wife Connie (Mireille Enos). Their banter seemed a little forced and uninteresting.
The one performance I absolutely hated though, surprisingly, was Sean Penn. Seriously, this guy was a cross between Dr. Claw from Inspector Gadget and Krang from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles…waaaaaaay to over the top. Penn camps it up to the point of being uncomfortable. As the movie goes on, it just gets worse. The climax of this film is so bland and anti-climactic, but there’s a stand off between him and Brolin’s O’Mara at the end that is so stupid, I wanted to walk out of the theater with my head down so no one would notice I was coming out of a screening of Gangster Squad.
But despite those truly terrible moments, the film kept managing to win me back here and there. There’s a club where all the characters seem to end up at one point or another, and the scenes here are pretty good, mostly because they usually involve Ryan Gosling. They play some of that really catchy music appropriate for the 1949 era, and Fliescher’s style fits well for these moments. There’s one sequence in particular where the Squad takes down one of Cohen’s big operations inside the club, and this is where I felt the Ocean’s Eleven level of style and fun. While I enjoyed the songs, the score was painfully bland, and is one of the reasons why this felt like a TV movie.
There’s a really fun movie somewhere in here, but the writer (Will Beall) and director didn’t have the talent to execute it. I mentioned Ocean’s Eleven a couple times, and if someone like Steven Soderbergh directed this, it could have been awesome. It’s not a total loss…Gosling and a lot of the actors provide some good entertainment value, but for the most part, this is just a big goofy mess.
Rating: 5.5 out of 10 (Passable Entertainment)