Los Angeles, 1949. Crime has a new boss in the form of Mickey Cohen, played by Sean Penn, though he seems to be doing a Robert DeNiro impression for much of the time. Cohen is not stoppable by the regular police because he kills everyone that’s dumb enough to decide to testify against him, so the police chief decides that he needs a force that’s outside the law to take him down. And that force’s name is the Gangster Squad, made up of war veterans, at least one pulp hero, and a couple of younger guys to act as sidekicks.
Yes, this movie sounds a lot like The Untouchables or any of the other gangster movies that we’ve seen over the years, but when has imitation stopped Hollywood from doing something?
Gangster Squad should’ve been released soon after the last Batman flick, but it was delayed because of the shooting in Colorado, and also had a scene of a shooting in a movie theater replaced.
Josh Brolin plays Detective O’Mara, a guy that’s kind of like a psychotic Ned Stark. He’s got a lovely wife and a baby on the way, but he takes on the leadership of the Gangster Squad because he feels it’s his duty. And while he never pays the price that Ned does, the people around him suffer quite a lot for his decision and his apparent lack of strategic thinking. O’Mara’s wife picks his team for him, and if she wasn’t pregnant and not a cop she might have been a good choice for actually leading the squad, because she’s a smart cookie. It’s not that O’Mara is unlikable, he’s got enough grit for ten John Wayne’s and it’s obvious that his men are dedicated to him, but he’s definitely a one tactic kind of guy, and brute force doesn’t always get the job done.
The squad itself is well-cast, though I kind of feel like the reason Jerry (Ryan Gosling) joined the squad is a bit too melodramatic for the rest of the movie.
Robert Patrick is the best in the squad hands down. His character is the most Pulp-ish in the movie, and he seems a little out of place because he ends up being larger than life in a lot of his scenes, like the one where he threw a can up and kept it in the air with his bullets, or his attempt to jailbreak some of the other members of the squad, which didn’t quite go as he planned. He seemed like a character out of the Old West more than anywhere else and if there hadn’t been so much shooting and action going on people might have questioned what he was doing in the movie. But there’s no time for questions like that here.
Emma Stone does a great job being Cohen’s eye candy, and she manages to make herself a part of the era with her dialogue, but there’s not anything else for her to do but be the damsel in distress. It’s kind of disappointing to see her just hanging around and being pretty when we know she can do so much more, especially since Gangster Squad is directed by Ruben Fleischer, who also helmed Zombieland, where Emma Stone had tons to do besides be the damsel in distress.
All in all, I think Gangster Squad is a fun movie, but it could’ve been so much more with a little bit of character development on both sides of the action. We know a lot about Mickey Cohen’s past and that he wants LA all to himself, but we never quite know why he’s so driven to take the town and hold it. Is it just simple greed, or is there more to it than that?
Gangster Squad is in theaters now.