Gangster Squad is a sad waste of talent. With its red-hot cast and gifted director (not to mention the money spent on it) one would expect something better that this.
The year is 1949 and Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) terrorises Los Angeles. Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) heads a covert police operation to take him down by any means necessary. He recruits a crack team with a diverse skill set; that’s Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick. Together they play dirty as the gangsters in order to get Cohen.
Heading the cast Brolin does his best. (As do most of this ensemble.) Brolin looks tough enough and believably post-war but the hokey script is limiting. Some people, however, just shouldn’t be cast in period films. Ryan Gosling is an unquestionable talent but he is, without doubt, a man from the third millennium. He affects another weedy voice (not dissimilar to his nasal whine in Drive). It’s totally inappropriate for his drinking, gambling, war veteran now doing battle in “the new Wild West” that is LA. As a result he comes across as a bit of a drip. Emma Stone phones it in. Sean Penn is so caked in makeup he would look more at home in Warren Beatty’s prosthetics-heavy Dick Tracy. To be seen underneath all of this he overcompensates by over-acting. The resulting performance is plain ridiculous – he’s like a confused patient, zonked-out on some incorrectly prescribed medication.
The film has little authentic sense of period. The cartoonish gore doesn’t help and neither does the way it’s bathed in CGI. It’s not just explosions etc that are computer-generated, the so-called ‘invisible’ effects are not so invisible and they are rife. Word of advice to the director: don’t try to computer-generate magic hour. (There’s a reason it’s called magic hour.) Unable to shake his modern sensibilities director Ruben Fleischer was the wrong guy for the job. Any of his attempts at visual flourish bring us crashing back into the present day.
Hugely derivative, there is not a lot of originality here. The obvious sources from which the filmmakers draw are LA Confidential and The Untouchables but they achieve nowhere near the quality of either. It gallops along with scenes given no room to breathe. The choppiness makes it all very two-dimensional. The underwritten characterisation adds to this, and there are some really bad lines. There were a few unintentional laughs at these from the audience I saw it with.