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Movie Review: 'Gangster Squad'

Gangster Squad

Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Rated R


The first time I saw the trailer for Gangster Squad, I got pretty excited about the movie.  Probably more than I should have.  I mean really, it was just a 2 minute trailer that did its job; It hooked right in, like Charlie Sheen to trouble, I was there.  Its original release date of Sept 7th couldn’t get here fast enough.  But then tragedy in my back yard of Aurora Colorado happened and Gangster Squad’s release date was pushed to reshoot a scene in the movie that involved gangsters shooting up a movie theater.  So it’s been a long time coming for this movie and a long time to think about why, if this movie was a good as the trailer made it out to be, get a release date of January 11th, which if you follow the release patterns of studios and their movies, you know that January 11th is when movies get released to quietly go away. 

Thankfully Gangster Squad isn’t a bad movie.  It’s over the top (especially in the acting department) but its aspirations lay more with Brian De Palma than they do with Curtis Hanson.  If you enjoyed The Untouchables, I’m willing to bet good money that you will enjoy Gangster Squad.  If you like a little meat on the bone, this may not be for you.  But you should give a shot anyway.  Gangster Squad feels like an ode to the gangster films of the 40’s and 50’s…only with more violence, language and Jeff Spicoli finally having some fun with a movie role. 

Gangster Squad is a movie with simple intentions.  East Coast mobster Mickey Cohen is taking over Los Angeles.  With drugs, brothels and soon to be the central location for all bookmaking on the West Coast, Cohen feels that controlling the city of angels is his destiny.  He has more than his share of police officers on the take, but there are a few, including the Chief of Police (Nick Nolte) who want to see him gone.   Enter Sgt John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) your standard by the books lets do some good cop with a baby on the way and a wife who wants him to stop fighting the war.  The Chief picks O’Mara to wage war on Cohen, off the books type stuff, to get him out of town.  O’Mara picks his men:  the suave one (Ryan Gosling), the nerdy one (Giovanni Ribisi), the gunslinger (Robert Patrick) and the guy who’s a great cop, but no one can see past the color of his skin (Anthony Mackie).

Gangster Squad will never be called original, in fact, it’s riddled with clichés.  So much so that there are points in the movie that when a certain piece of dialogue is uttered, you will immediately know the outcome.  But director Ruben Fleischer makes up for it in other areas.  The movie doesn’t feel forced in any way.  It moves at a brisk pace and actually, it’s under 2 hour running time was a nice change to all the “prestige” films over the last month that have all run close to 3 hours.  The movie also doesn’t hold back on giving you a lot of bang for your buck.  There is action upon action in Gangster Squad. And while a couple of scenes tried to get to stylistic with how they were shot, overall,  Fleischer and his DP did a great job with the execution of the battle for Los Angeles if you will. 

And then there is Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen.  Penn takes a page out of the Al Pacino as Scarface play book and runs with it.  Which is a good thing as it would’ve been unwise to try and play it in a serious manner as Penn is prone to do with his movie roles.  He’s not as good as Pacino was, but that’s not a slight against Penn in anyway…not too many people could have pulled off what Pacino did. 

In the end I really enjoyed Gangster Squad, and just like the trailer, probably more than I should.  But I’m ok with that.  It’s pulpy, over the top and while a part of me wishes it had grander aspirations, what it ended up being was at least fun and not in the least bit boring.  So I guess it was kinda worth the wait.


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