When I first heard that they were releasing this wannabe blockbuster in the second week of January when all the Oscar bait is long since out and studios seek to dump their least desirable misfires upon an unsuspecting public working off their holiday candy canes, I thought, yikes: it must be bad. Like bad bad.
Turns out, it’s not so much bad as it is plain deficient. There’s a lot to admire in Gangster Squad – it’s nothing if not stylish – but there are many things in the movie that simply never accomplish anything other than “look” right. The sets are noir, the costumes are vintage, and that’s about it. The guns, in this post-Newtown era, seem a bit much and unsavory. But that’s a debate I’ll leave to Quentin Tarantino and cable news talking heads.
Gangster Squad is about a mob boss named Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who rules the roost; he gets what he wants because everyone lives to serve him, cops and politicians included. A ragtag group of cops led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) come to challenge him, once and for all, and to show everyone that good does triumph over evil in most cinematic sagas. Hip. Hip. Hooray?
The movie gets the style right; it just screams “gangsta”. What it doesn’t do, however, is give its cast anything substantial to do. Apart from a few scenes for Gosling and a dozen or so solid moments for Sean Penn, there’s little the cast gets to do except stand around in their costumes and look like a 1930s Old Hollywood Poster. The story and the performances tend to go over the top, and as much as we like to fetishize our mob icons, this is a prime example of less is more.