It’s nearly Christmas. You’re really excited and have been waiting for ages. You think that your parents have got you an amazing LEGO Castle with some of your favourite minifigures. Every time you go to the cinema your parents show you a little sneak peek at a couple of the best looking bricks. You can’t contain your excitement. Then some idiot shoots a load of people in the LEGO factory and Santa puts Christmas back. The Castle you are told needs some tweaking. You wait and wait, still excited. The day finally arrives. You rush to the cinema to open your Christmas Present and… wait. It’s not the amazing LEGO Castle at all but some cheap imitation. Your Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone minifigures are there and there’s even one that looks a bit like Sean Penn, it looks great too but it isn’t what you were hoping for.
Originally slated for release in autumn 2012 Gangster Squad was put back following the tragic Aurora shooting in Colorado. After some reshoots to remove a pivotal cinema shoot up the film was released in the UK in January 2013. I’d been really looking forward to it since early 2012 but my anticipation was never going to be met. The film tells the real life story of The Gangster Squad, a small Police Unit given free reign to catch L.A. Gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Sergeant O’Mara (Josh Brolin) brings together a crack squad of rough, strong and smart Police to meet Cohen on his own terms and free L.A. from his grasp.
Gangster Squad is a stylish looking film which avoids the Noir like feel of similar films. At times I really liked the way it looks but sometimes it went too far. The movie is glossy and shiny but sometimes I wanted a bit of grittiness. The cinematography captured the spirit of a Hollywood version of L.A. but it always feels like an imitation rather than the real thing. Later scenes looked as though they were shot in the same way as Michael Mann’s Public Enemies with high definition digital cameras. During an important fight scene this created the look of a cheap TV soap rather than glossy Hollywood film but the action was realistic and in your face. Some of the set pieces are fantastic and the car chase is a particular highlight. There is obviously a lot of CGI in use but it looks good. Outdoor sets also look really nice but as with the film as a whole they look like sets rather than the real thing.
My biggest disappointment with Gangster Squad was the plot. It should have been fascinating but I often felt bored. The dialogue ranged between sharp and funny and clunky and embarrassing. At times I was even reminded of The Room but that was only on a couple of occasions. It was generally Ryan Gosling’s character who was lumbered with the chunkiest dialogue but luckily I was usually lost in his dreamy eyes so I wasn’t really listening to what he was saying. A lot of the plot and dialogue focussed on the Second World War in which many of the characters fought. In fact the film could be seen as much a war film as gangster film. The characters often mention the war and how they just can’t stop fighting. The unique skills they picked up in the war also come in handy when coming against a gangster of Cohen’s proportions. I noticed quite a lot of military tactics in use during the shoot-outs. I was really expecting the plot to be more engaging but never felt a part of the action. Sometimes there was an interesting moment but on the whole the plot washed over me.
The characters could be described as pure stock characters. They aren’t very three dimensional but I generally enjoyed them. Sean Penn’s Micky Cohen is vicious and cruel and not the sort of man you’d want to meet down a dark alley or any alley for that matter. He has some of the best dialogue with lines such as “My whole crop of cunt is ruined” cutting right through you and leaving nothing to the imagination. Penn’s portrayal of Cohen is pretty good and I had no trouble with his makeup. Josh Brolin plays a tortured character that wants to make L.A. a better place and can’t stop fighting a war which ended four years ago. Brolin plays it well. Ryan Gosling raises his voice a couple of octaves which initially sounded a bit funny but when I settled into the film I actually enjoyed it. He was cool and suave and obviously very attractive but I felt that his and Emma Stone’s chemistry wasn’t as strong as in Crazy Stupid Love. Emma Stone was very glamorous and beautiful but was given little to do acting wise. She was always well inside her comfort zone. The large ensemble cast includes some of my favourite actors and one of those is the always fantastic Giovanni Ribisi. Here he is only a small part of the Gangster Squad, playing the brains of the operation but is no less superb than usual. I also thought that Michael Pena gave a subtly crafted performance in which he often seems uneducated or naive but is smart under the surface.
One of the problems with Gangster Squad is that its plot has been covered before in a superior movie. Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables contained a very similar story only with L.A. substituted with Chicago and Cohen for Capone. Not only is the story similar but the setting has been bettered many times but most notably in L.A.Confidential. Gangster Squad isn’t a bad film but isn’t great either. It will find a place on the DVD shelves of teenage boys alongside the likes of Fight Club and Scarface and has some nice design and acting but it is weighed down but an unnecessarily dull plot and some clunky dialogue.