Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte
Running Time: 113 min
Release: 10th January
Inspired by a true story—in the loosest possible sense—Gangster Squad follows the rise of vicious gangster Mickey Cohen (played with scenery devouring gusto by Sean Penn) as he cuts a bloody trail through Los Angeles in 1949. Since Cohen has most of the police force in his pocket, police chief Parker (Nick Nolte) decides to recruit honest cop John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to put together a small task force to take down the gangster’s empire through any means necessary. The team wage guerrilla war against Cohen and his business, but find him to be much more resilient and cunning than they expected.
If you walk into this film expecting a history lesson you’re in for a major disappointment, as the story takes the facts as a jumping off point for a pretty generic action thriller. The film is basically a glossy remake of Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables, with all of the style but little of the substance. As expected with a cast like this all the actors do solid work in somewhat underwritten roles, with Brolin anchoring the film as a cop who is willing to break the law to uphold its ideals. Special note should be made of actor Giovanni Ribisi, who manages to take his small role as the resident brain of the group and make something interesting out of it.
As the story unfolds the script leaves no cliché unturned, and events play out exactly as you’d expect. In between the stylish set pieces, the film makes half hearted attempts at questioning the morality of the group’s actions. A romantic subplot between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone fails to convince as the two actors have little chemistry together.
One area where the film does excel is in its production and art design. It recreates 1940s LA in stunning detail, with smoky nightclubs and neon signs giving the viewer a palpable sense of the period, and director Fleischer certainly knows how to make it all look pretty. But all the surface sheen in the world can’t mask the hollowness at its core.
Gangster Squad is slick Friday night entertainment, nothing more, nothing less. The cast do good work, the action scenes are exciting and it’s beautiful to behold, but once you exit the cinema it will quickly evaporate from your memory.