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GANGSTER SQUAD Shoots Blanks (review)

Ruben Fleischer, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, Robert Patrick
Review by Caitlyn Thompson

Gangster Squad
Produced by Dan Lin, Kevin McCormick, Michael Tadross
Screenplay by Will Beall
Based on Tales from the Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, Robert Patrick

Warner Bros. / Rated R

Gangster Squad is the story of a team of misfit cops trying to defeat the biggest mobster in Los Angeles.

Mickey Cohen, played by Sean Penn, has intentions of complete dominion over the West Coast while his opposition, Sergeant Generic Irish Name (actually John O’Mara), played by Josh Brolin, is a war hero seeking his next righteous crusade—unfortunately, there is no personal vendetta introduced between the characters so it is difficult to care about the motive of either side.  The fact that they mention Mickey Cohen is Jewish and relentlessly violent doesn’t add anything to the character, if it is supposed to be exceptional for the time period, it doesn’t prove itself valuable, character wise.

Sean Penn talks with his head slightly bowed and voice full of rasp but he falls flat. He isn’t lovable, just another mobster who wants more. The addition of Brolin’s tacky and uninspiring voiceovers doesn’t induce sympathy or care for the character, but more so a synchronized eye-roll from the audience. The director, Ruben Fleischer, uses every stereotype and film noir trope he can find, from dialogue to shot direction and everything in between, minus a femme fatale (sorry Emma Stone, I prefer your fantastic wit and quick low-toned humor in Easy A).

The film is far more enjoyable when the characters are still slightly incompetent people with potential for greatness, but it drops off pretty abruptly. After a newspaper headline montage the cops are suddenly transformed into a crew of vigilante heroes. But their success was based more upon sheer dumb luck than actual strategy or intelligence. Even the general populace of Los Angeles is indifferent towards Mickey Cohen’s reign or downfall. It is difficult to be a cheerleader for the team when they have zero support around them, minus a beer-toting Nick Nolte, as Police Chief Parker.
Need I say more?

The motives of all characters are cliché or non-existent. Every point of dialogue and plot is obvious and predictable. I laughed out loud at some cute one-liners yet also at the movie’s pastiche of every single cop/mob movie ever made. The only redeeming quality of the film was Ryan Gosling as Sergeant Jerry Wooters. He is the only character that is given any motive to pursue an attack on Mickey Cohen. Gosling doesn’t have much of a script to work with, but he delivers, charming as ever, a sensitive, dangerous and damaged cop willing to fight when brutality is needed and cuddly when behind closed doors. His relationship with Emma Stone seems to based on the fact that they are the most attractive people but there is zero chemistry present. The actors made glasses steam in Crazy, Stupid, Love, so where is it in Gangster Squad? This further subverts the action movie formula Fleischer is striving for: an all-star cast plus huge guns plus throwaway romance does not equal a good movie.

What’s important for film noir is the mood. You’re supposed to feel the suspense, contemplate the motives, and fear the double-crosses. In Gangster Squad, where is the twist? The soundtrack and dialogue attempt to facilitate the noir style but there are only so many lines you can grab from the late forties. The director tosses them out generously in the first half hour and then it all falls to gunfights, which by the end left me bullet fatigued.

Stylistically the film is beautiful. It sometimes felt like I was watching a live-action comic book. Make-up is smooth and colors are vibrant. The costumes are great and there is just the right amount of smoke appropriate to the era– or do I just think that because Ryan Gosling looks sexy in a fedora and cigarette hanging off his lip?

Gangster Squad is a B- action movie that merits viewing when it becomes available on Netflix. The film is forgettable as soon as it ends. If you want to see a good film that satisfies your craving for Los Angeles noir, revisit Chinatown or L.A. Confidential.  If you want a fabulous production about a feud between cops and mobsters, watch The Departed. Characters aren’t mindless: they have stories, they have motives, and each person is lovable in their own way, painted with varying shades of grey. Fleischer tries too hard to make his hero lovable. The monologues feel trite and forced. Shut up Brolin. We get it. You’re a hero. Was there ever any doubt? I was just waiting for Ryan Gosling to reappear and say something clever, softly with suave.

And Mr. Gosling, if you’re reading this, call me.

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