In 2011, Rockstar Games released L.A. Noire, a video game set in 1947 Los Angeles, telling the tale of a conflicted cop who’s fresh back from World War II. Today, Warner Bros. unveils Gangster Squad, a film set in 1949 Los Angeles, telling the tale of a conflicted cop who’s fresh back from World War II. Oh, and they have one other thing in common: Both are disappointing.
L.A. Noire may have been on my mind as I watched Gangster Squad, but the film has just as much in common with 1987’s The Untouchables, and that is to say, too much. Inspired by a true story (which I believe is quite different than being “based on a true story”), Gangster Squad is about of a group of LAPD officers and detectives who go invisible from the force in an effort to stop ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his thug army from taking over Los Angeles. Josh Brolin plays John O’Mara, the cop whose one-track mind for curtailing crime worries the hell out of his wife and threatens to make his career (and life) a short one. When L.A. Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) gets wind of O’Mara’s noble dedication, he tasks him with forming a team of lawmen to stop Cohen’s crime syndicate, guerrilla style. Then, the gunplay begins.
But let’s say you haven’t played seen The Untouchables, or played L.A. Noire, or seen a good mobster movie in awhile. Will Gangster Squad scratch your itch for the genre? Well, first figure out if you somehow still have an itch for slo-mo gun battles, guys walking away from explosions, and a rag tag team of underdogs wiping out a massive army of goons. Director Ruben Fleischer thinks you do. His vision and Will Beall’s script play out like how we all know a film like this is supposed to, but it results in a tepid movie-watching experience. Despite the acting caliber of Penn, Brolin, Nolte, and Ryan Gosling as the jaded Jerry Wooters, the film feels more like a string of cliched mob movie scenes patched together, rather than one immersive story.
And yes, while this particular story is one that you may not have heard of before, you will have a damn good idea of how it turns out. Portraying the vile Cohen, Penn lays the necessary trust-me-I’m-an-evil-prick groundwork, but it’s hardly one of his finest performances. There are some gory deaths – “You know the drill,” says Penn, and yes, he means “drill” quite literally – but for the most part the violence is slick, stylized, and generally lacking the authenticity necessary to make you fully wince at what’s on screen.
A tiny smidgen of sizzle is added to the proceedings via Emma Stone who plays Grace Faraday, Cohen’s main dame and the girl that Wooters bravely scores with. Now I know Gosling is the cat’s meow when it comes to modern day hunks, and sure, I can agree he’s attractive, but I don’t think he nails the role of daring cop too well here. Maybe it’s the higher-pitched voice? Not sure.
Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be for this film. Gangster Squad had its publicity push severely curtailed in the summer when its trailer showing a climactic shootout at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre was pulled following the movie-theater massacre in Aurora, Colorado. The preview had been scheduled to run before The Dark Knight Rises in many cities. As a result, Fleischer and crew had to shoot a whole new ending in Chinatown, and it’s safe to say that ending fails to inspire the drama and tension it’s supposed to. Along with the rather unoriginal premise and been-done-plenty-of-times-before setting of late 40’s Los Angeles, it all adds up to a disappointing 113 minutes. If you have the itch, I say scratch it with L.A. Confidential and The Untouchables and save the $10.
Gangster Squad – 4.5 out of 10