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Gangster Squad Review: A Stylist Violent Romp

Kieran Thought: 7/10
Fused Rating: 7/10
(2 reviews total)

From the director of Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less, Ruben Fleischer makes his first foray into serious filmmaking with his police and gangster movie Gangster Squad, delivering a highly violent and stylist flick that is tonally mixed.

In 1949 the criminal underworld of Los Angeles has been taken over by an east coast gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a man who made his way to the top by using violence and cruelty and maintains control by bribing the police, judges and politicians. But one police officer is not scared of Cohen, homicide detective, Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), an officer who single handily brings down Cohen’s brothel operation. O’Mara is asked by LAPD Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) to recruit of squad of police offices to run a clandestine operation and go to war with Cohen.


Gangster Squad is very similar to 1987′s The Untouchables. Both movies are loosely based on true stories and tells of a moral law enforcer who has to run a small team of officers to bring down a notorious gangster. But there are differences as well: Brolin character is much more willing to break the rules to do what he thinks is right and his character becomes more morally ambiguous than Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness and the cops in Gangster Squad are the harden rouges of the LAPD, not the incorruptible officers of The Untouchables.

Another theme is the friendship between O’Mara and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling); two cops with very differing personalities and viewpoints and go on two separate journeys. O’Mara is the moral cop who is willing to defy orders for what he thinks is right and slowly becomes colder and hardened when attempting to bring down O’Mara. While Wooters starts as a narcissistic character that ends up having something to live for, stating the squad needed more of a strategy and the two have a role reversal.


There is a jarring style and tone to throughout the movie. Gangster Squad starts off very dark with a man being split in two and a woman nearly being raped which are later contrasted with comedy (which was well done) and flashy visuals.  Flesicher seemed confused on whether he wanted make a grim police vs. gangster movie or a fun action romp. In the end he stayed in his comfort zone and used a lot of his visual tricks throughout the movie. Gangster Squad was very much like a Guy Ritchie gangster movie in its tone and look.

The strongest aspect of Gangster Squad is the action sequences. There are plenty of violent shoot outs, an excellent car chase, fist fights and stylized montages. They are well crafted, well edited set pieces and Fleischer is very happy employing similar tricks that Zack Snyder employs, i.e. slo-mo and camera pans.

One of the main reasons why people are interested in Gangster Squad is new writer Will Beall has been hired to write the Justice League movie. Sadly his story is safe and Gangster Squad is a new version of The Untouchables. The run up to the third act follows typical cop movie clichés we have all seen before and does nothing new. Some of the character very stock, Emma Stone had a thankless role as Cohen’s girlfriend who starts a relationship with Wooters, while Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña were given one note characters with little for the actors to work with.


Beall does attempt themes about Post War America, the rise of affluences and the question of why fight wars if there is nothing good to come back to. But when mixed with Flesicher’s hyper-realistic direction, those ideas were not the greatest fit to go with that style.

If you go into Gangster Squad expecting a Martin Scorsese style crime thriller you will be left disappointed, but as an action film it is an entertaining romp. But Flesicher does need to vary his style if he wants to be more than a one movie wonder.

Simon Thought: “The first 40-or-so minutes of Gangster Squad represnted some of the most dead-on filmmaking in terms of meeting my somewhat lofty expectations. Full of gleeful violence, stylized fights and shootouts and that gangster banter that just makes you grin, director Reuben Fleischer and scribe WIll Beall pay homage in the best ways. Then something happens. The pace slowsm erroneous subplots bog down the central story and frankly things get rather boring. Though there are plenty of fine performances to note and a fiery finale certainly perk things back up, by then the damage has been done, and what could have been a slick and wildly entertaining B-movie has just become a slick B-movie.” Rating: 7/10

Rating
7.0

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