is only very, very loosely based on a true story and actually feels more like a graphic novel-inspired shoot 'em up action movie/classic gangster film than anything resembling reality. Part of the problem is the level of violence and part has to do with the cartoonish caricatures that substitute for any actual character development in this R-rated bloody noir project from director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland
, 30 Minutes or Less
It's an homage to classic gangster films, but Gangster Squad's going about paying tribute to those films from the '40s and '50s in too obvious a way. There's no meat on the bone, nothing of substance to grab onto as an audience member. And what's most disappointing is that it's a waste of a talented group of actors. This is a cast that, given the right material, could have made a film to rival The Untouchables. As it is, that film remains untouchable. These gangsters are dime store versions of the fully fleshed-out characters that existed in Brian De Palma's 1987 crime drama.
is supposedly based on events surrounding the eventual capture of gangster Mickey Cohen, a thug who ran roughshod over the LAPD and who - at least based on the film version - was apparently something of an unofficial mayor. He ruled the city in the '40s and '50s until one hard-nosed police chief (played by Nick Nolte who seems to be channeling Clint Eastwood's growl) decided enough was enough. Taking the bull by the horns and throwing caution to the wind (take your pick of cliches), the chief recruits Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin
) to head up a small squad of officers dedicated solely to ending Cohen's reign of terror. O'Mara and his 'Gangster Squad' are allowed to pursue the mobster and take him down using any means necessary. If that means shoot-outs on a crowded Chinatown street or in a nightclub filled with innocent civilians, so be it. Collateral damage be damned in this war on Mickey Cohen and his crew.
Of course, needing to pull in the female audience much time is spent with Mickey's girlfriend (played by Emma Stone
) and her on-the-side relationship with Gangster Squad member Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling
). There's no denying they're an attractive couple and Stone and Gosling sizzle on screen, but the relationship angle as a central part of the story rings false. Also ringing false is Sean Penn's
portrayal of Mickey Cohen. Penn shows a Cohen with zero charisma, no charm, and little reason for anyone to follow him. This performance seems more parody than a grounded-in-reality portrayal. Every gangster stereotype is inserted as Penn mugs and slugs his way through scenes.
The most we can say about the group of actors gathered to fill out the squad - Michael Pena, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, and Giovanni Ribisi - is that they are all fine yet sadly underused and totally underdeveloped. We find out the very, very basics of each character but nothing that makes us feel anything particular toward them, other than Gosling's playboy with a heart of gold character. The rest are a bizarre assortment that we barely get to know. Why is there a cowboy sharpshooter involved? Why does he have a Mexican sidekick? The others all exist in that weird sort of world where supporting players are little more than space fillers.
More than anything, I left the theater wondering how any of it could have possibly been true. I couldn't have cared less about the movie itself but the LAPD vs Cohen battle seems like it could have lent itself to a terrific, meaty screenplay. But just the slightest bit of research post-screening led me to realize the names weren't changed but the rest of the story was altered in drastic ways. Why even use Cohen's name?
This period in LA's history is fascinating. Too bad the film is not.
Gangster Squad was directed by Ruben Fleischer and is rated R for strong violence and language.
Theatrical Release: January 11, 2013