Monday 14 January 2013

Film Review: Gangster Squad

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in Gangster Squad

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte
Runtime: 113 minutes

Gangster Squad is an stylishly shot and star-studded homage to a much-loved genre that doesn't wholly disappoint but also doesn't live up to it's full potential. 

Set in 1940's Los Angeles, Gangster Squad centres around a troupe of incorruptible cops who are dead-set on bringing mobster kingpin Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) to justice for his crimes across the city. As the stakes and death toll escalate, what was once a small-time attack on the mob-world slowly becomes a personal and vicious guerilla war between the two sides.

Heading up our squad of vigilante cops is John O'Mara, acted by the brilliant Josh Brolin. Honest and determined, O'Mara has a wife and unborn child at home to protect but also his duty to serve to honour. Brolin's character isn't one that is untried and untested but then, none of the characters are. From Brolin's white knight, Penn's cackling and malicious Cohen to Emma Stone's seductive femme fatale, all of the characters here fit an mould that is instantly recognisable.

This isn't a criticism of the film however. If anything, it's the opposite. It allows for Gangster Squad to be something of a known quantity, fitting into a genre that has been built up over time with ease. The characters, the settings, the props are all reminiscent of the classic Hollywood films from which Gangster Squad can trace its heritage. The most important things about this film is its authentic 1940's look and feel. From the classic Chevrolet cars and smoke filled bars and casinos, Gangster Squad certainly looks the part.

Whilst it may be predictable, the narrative in Gangster Squad isn't one-dimensional. Whilst some characters fall by the wayside (Anthony Mackie's Coleman Harris is a little underused) others really shine. Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone continue their electric on-screen chemistry last seen in Crazy, Stupid, Love to great effect. Likewise, the attention awarded to O'Mara and Conway Keeler's (Giovanni Ribisi) home-life adds depth to their character's and focuses on what they have to lose.

But what is a gangster movie without unrestrained mayhem and madness. If there's one point that this reviewer needs to emphasise, it's that Gangster Squad has more bullets, explosions and vehicular destruction than you can shake a tommy gun at.

Make no mistake, shooting up a street in Chinatown and slow-motion bullets tearing through a hotel foyer is what Gangster Squad is all about at its heart. Director Fleisher embraces this notion wholeheartedly, the films various action set-pieces making Gangster Squad one of the loudest and brashest films this year. The car chase in the film's middle third stands out as a highpoint.

There is however, an over-riding sense that the whole thing doesn't come together quite as perfectly as it could have done. Penn over-acts to the degree that his villain comes across as more of a cartoon character. In addition to this, the blood and gore can be overwhelming at times, the opening scene where Cohen pulls apart a rival by tying his arms and legs to two separate cars particularly gruesome.

Gangster Squad looks rich and is chock full of rip-roaring action but falls a little short of expectation through some avoidable mis-steps. A must-see for fans of the genre, performances from Brolin, Stone and Ribisi hit the mark but others (Penn) miss the sweet spot.

I give Gangster Squad: 7/10


  1. All flash with zero substance, and a sometimes jarringly uneven flash at that. Shame, too. I was looking forward to this one for a long time. Good review.

    1. It was quite over the top at times wasn't it! Glad you liked my review in any case ;)



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