Ever since the 30’s, Americans have been in love with Gangsters. Throughout our cinematic past, there are countless movies about gangsters, the Mafia, bank-robbers, etc. When we watch a movie with dashing men in suits and hats, dames with looks that kill, and plenty of sub-machine guns, our knees get weak and we melt like butter. Unfortunately, since the year 2000, there have only been a handful of notable movies that fit this category. But, here comes Gangster Squad. We’ve got a star-studded cast, bullets, cigarettes, and some gritty visual style, but will all of the flash and bang be enough to make Gangster Squad a modern Crime Classic?
Gangster Squad is about an off-the-books task force created to drive off the notorious L.A. gangster, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). The squad consists of John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena), and Max Kennard (Robert Patrick). I would love to explain the subtle backstory that leads this dream team together, but there is hardly any screen time before the squad is formed. Sadly, this rushed feeling becomes the theme of Gangster Squad. Once the squad is together, their objective is to destroy all of Cohen’s operations in Los Angeles, in hopes to drive him away from the city. The plot is entirely centered around these men going from place to place, wrecking criminal plans and shooting badguys, with a small romance story between Gosling and Emma Stone. While the story is coherent and exciting to watch, it’s also shamefully thin. If I had known what this movie contained, before I saw it, I would have thought this was a summer release. It falls into the “Popcorn Movie” genre, with a major emphasis on style and action, but little character development or depth of plot.
When I saw the amount of A-List actors for Gangster Squad, I immediately had high hopes. Unfortunately, these hopes didn’t come true. Not to say that any of the actors did a bad job, but none of them had any material to do anything with. All of the characters portrayed in this film were paper-thin representations of character types: The Boy Scout, The Charming Loner, The Cowboy, The Smart Guy with Glasses, The Guy with a Knife, and The Apprentice. While the actors were a fine job in their roles, there was nothing more in the film to set the characters apart from the tired, old archetypes. The only character that felt whole was the villain, Cohen. The only reason he stands apart from the rest is because they actually take the time to show his past, how he came to be, and how he lives in everyday life. All of the characters could have been this fleshed out, but Gangster Squad was in too much of a rush to show the next violent scene.
One category where Gangster Squad easily delivers: Style. Every shoot-out, flashback, and chase scene is polished and stylized. Gangster Squad is an exciting and beautiful movie to watch, there’s no doubt about that. Anyone coming for the action will be very pleased with what this film has to offer. The music is equally interesting, delivering a perfect mash of late 40’s and early 50’s music. Everything about Gangster Squad tries to draw you back into the time of the film and, for the most part, it works. It’s enjoyable to let yourself slip back in time to a more badass version of those years. Don’t forget plenty of suspension for your disbelief, though.
Gangster Squad does everything right, except bring any depth to the film. You’ve got the great cast, exciting plot, beautiful style and music, but nothing for all of that to stand on. If the characters had been more developed, the plot hadn’t been so rushed, and the emphasis placed on story, instead of action, I think Gangster Squad could have been one of my favorite mob films of the last ten years. Sadly, it misses the mark and falls in with the rest of the movies that “Came So Close”. It may tease the appetite of Gangster Movie fans, but it won’t do better than keep us wishing for something more.
I give Gangster Squad 3 “Classy Drinks” out of 5
By Blake Edwards