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Review: Gangster Squad

January 10, 2013

Film + Entertainment | by Francesco Cerniglia

Gangster Squad

“The war’s over John, you don’t have to fight anymore,” pleads John O’Mara’s wife. Read that sentence, and then read it again. Now just to be safe, read it ten more times. There, now you’ve just read the first thirty pages of Gangster Squad. No, subtlety is not exactly the film’s strongest point. Yes we get it; Josh Brolin is finding it difficult to readjust after the war. YOU DON’T HAVE TO MENTION IT IN EVERY SCENE!

But don’t let that put you off. Despite a brutal opening ten minutes which involves a man being torn in half, a severed hand and a fair few bloody punches, the film takes a definite turn for the lighthearted, a move the director seems to relish and you’ll soon forget about the heavy handed exposition. Moving at a fair old trot, Gangster Squad focuses on the LAPD’s efforts to wrestle the city out of the clawed hands of real life mafia boss Mickey Cohen, played with gusto by Sean Penn.  Josh Brolin’s rebel cop John O’Mara is tasked with forming a team of off the books policemen to destroy Cohen’s empire and drive him out of Los Angeles.

Comparisons with The Untouchables are inevitable, and yet whilst this is a much more sleek and shiny affair, it just doesn’t carry the same weight as the realism of De Palma’s classic. It’s the movie equivalent of Katy Perry singing Adele. The stylized nature of the film makes it easy on the eyes sure, but works against itself when scenes of supposed brutal violence just seem hollow and bland in comparison to De Niro’s raw baseball bat beating brutality.

After playing a local mobster in Mystic River, Sean Penn’s Mickey Cohen could almost be seen as the evolution of Jimmy Markum, albeit with a prosthetic nose to rival Gandalf. However whereas Jimmy Markum was an interesting and conflicted character Mickey Cohen is sadly two-dimensional. Sean Penn’s act of bombastic shouting and angry glowering quickly gets boring and you soon wish Josh Brolin would just hurry up and kill him just to shut him up for a second. Brolin doesn’t fare much better though. His hard as nails detective isn’t exactly original and his complete lack of moral conflict and sense of righteousness makes him a rather shallow character and doesn’t allow Brolin to fully flex his undoubted acting ability.

Making up the rest of the squad is Anthony Mackie who throws knives, Robert Patrick shoots cans in the air whilst Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi do good work as comic relief. Their characters are never given enough attention however and this lack of emotional investment in the characters makes it very hard to care whether they live or die. Ryan Gosling does the best he can as Jerry Wooters, O’Mara’s right hand man, but his character is petty and childish on occasions making him hard to like whilst his ‘romance’ with Emma Stone’s Grace Farady fails to recapture the chemistry they formed in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

Gangster Squad

After 30 Minutes or Less, the disappointing follow up to Zombieland, you would be forgiven for questioning which was the true example of Ruben Fleischer’s talents and Gangster Squad goes some way to suggest 30 Minutes was nothing but a blip. Whilst there are undoubted flaws in Gangster Squad, Fleischer’s visual flair and deft hand for humour makes it an enjoyable piece of cinema, which, whilst lightweight compared to The Untouchables, won’t leave you feeling robbed when the lights come up.

Samuel Richardson.

Gangster Squad is released in UK cinemas tomorrow.