Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling
You may like this if you liked: L.A. Confidential (Curtis Hanson, 1997), The Black Dahlia (Brian De Palma, 2006), The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987)
Los Angeles in 1949, notorious gangster Mickey Cohen (Penn) controls the entire city, including many judges and members of the police force. Those that will not work with him are too afraid to stand up to him or testify against him. One cop, ex war vet John O’Mara (Brolin) is not (just as well or it would be much of a story) and is enlisted by Police chief William Parker (a gruffer than ever Nick Nolte) to form a secret team to bring Cohen down. O’Mara forms his secret team, enlisting four uniquely skilled men (of course one is a rookie), and also asks fellow cop and ex vet Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) to join him. One who prefers the easy life, but after witnessing Cohen’s men murder a boy he was close too, decides to join in the fun. Oh and just to make matters worse, Wooters is secretly involved with Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), the clichéd ‘femme fatale’ that Cohen is very close to. Together this group of six cliché ticking cops attempt to secretly bring down Cohen’s empire and bring justice back to Los Angeles, making him think it is the attempts of a rival gang and not cops. Oh and they call themselves the ‘Gangster Squad’, hence the film’s less than subtle title.
Sounds like a slightly familiar story doesn’t it? Well, if it is familiarity and very little surprises you are after then Gangster Squad is pure cinematic perfection. This film is a perfect example of Hollywood being a machine simply there to make money. The attention to detail is immaculate in the perfect set design and the cinematography is spot on. However once again those lovely Hollywood producers have elected to think pretty images, combined with a plethora of big name stars is enough. Instead we are left with a gorgeous looking but extremely hollow and forgettable experience. Even the actors cannot seem to be too bothered, admittedly Brolin does what he does best and Penn (complete with distracting prosthetic nose) does his best James Cagney impression. Gosling is on total autopilot, looking as though he is there to pick up the pay check to fund one of his lower budget projects (and good for him) and Emma Stone is both criminally underused and horrifically miscast. Nick Nolte simply sounds like he smokes 80 a day.
The predictable narrative essentially goes through a check list of gangster film clichés all the way to the expected outcome. However, I must confess, enter this film with low expectations and there is something reassuring about the extreme predictability of it all. It is above everything else, extremely watchable. If you are looking for a challenging watch to get you thinking then stay clear of this one. However, if you have had a long day and just want to watch something extremely easy then you could do far, far worse than Gangster Squad. The high production values, familiar cast and complete predictability of the narrative almost make this feel like a 100 minute long relaxing piece of music. You may not remember much of it, but you will feel relaxed. Despite some of the moments of brutal violence and loud gunfire, you will never be on edge as it is impossible to care for any characters, and you know exactly what will happen next.
As shallow and gorgeous looking as Hollywood itself; Gangster Squad is an extremely watchable, entertaining and almost reassuring watch that will not challenge any part of your brain except your memory.