Movie Review: Gangster Squad (2013)

Posted: August 31, 2013 in Drama
Tags: , ,

gangster sqad

Mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) wants to take over post-World War II Los Angeles by controlling drugs, prostitution and most importantly controlling the flow of gambling money all the way from Chicago to L.A.  The gambling operation is code named Operation El Dorado. Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) tasks Sergeant John O’ Mara (Josh Brolin) with bringing together a force of policemen to take apart Cohen’s burgeoning operation, and hunt down and kill Cohen.  Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and Officer Conwell Keeler (Giovani Ribisi) make up what’s called the Gangster Squad, and they go about dismantling Cohen’s gang.  Keeler is the intelligence officer  who bugs Cohen’s house and provides the rest of the squad about what Cohen plans to do.  But Wooters, the rebel in the group falls for Cohen’s girlfriend, Grace Farraday. (Emma Stone)  Grace and Jerry know if their romance is discovered, it means death for both of them.  Do they end operation El Dorado, do they kill Cohen or does the romance between Wooters  and Grace Farraday get in the way?

I did not like Gangster Squad.  My displeasure starts with the voice over narration, don’t get me wrong classic movies like Sunset Boulevard and Citizen Kane, use voiceover narration to great effect, but it’s simply not necessary here.  The movie is a triumph of style over substance.  The movie looks great, it captures the art-deco style of 1940’s Los Angeles perfectly, the day-glo colors of the buildings and neon literally jump off the screen, the costumes are similarly spiffy, but the story is simply not compelling.  It’s like some of the best actors in America got together and decided to play cops and robbers.  What makes Cohen want to be a gangster? Is it his background as a fighter? Is it his ethnicity, being a Jew in a profession dominated by Sicilians? There is not enough character development for any of the characters, all the cops are perfect, except for Wooters and other than his relationship with Grace Farraday, this movie tells us nothing about him.

Sean Penn gets lost in the prosthetic makeup, and trying to create a distinctive voice for Cohen.  It really is not a good performance.  When Cagney played  Tom Powers in The Public Enemy, his anger as seething below the surface.  Sean Penn, sometimes plays Cohen as low-key, but sometimes screams just to show that he is acting. I found Ryan Gosling’s performance oddly uninteresting, and I usually like Gosling.  He had more chemistry with Stone in Crazy Stupid Love, and that’s not a good sign.  Stone does her best Veronica Lake (or was it Jessica Rabbit) style femme-fatale, but I never got the sense that she was in danger, or for that matter dangerous. Josh Brolin ‘s character was made perfect, flawless, and so he couldn’t really do much except be flawless.  Mackey and Pena were in the movie I suspect to appeal to a certain demographic, as Hollywood is known to do.

The writing is subpar, extreme violence fills the gaps for actual plot, and the story was much too long.  I saw nothing spectacular in the direction, but it’s the first time I actually noticed set design and costume design.

Gangster Squad:  A bloody mess.


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