Gangster Squad Directed by Ruben Fleischer Written by Will Beall Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña Warner Bros. Pictures Rated R | 113 Minutes Release Date: January 11, 2013
No Names. No Badges. No Mercy.
Based on Tales from the Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman, Gangster Squad is the latest film by director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland).
This neo-noir gangster picture, written for the screen by Will Beall, feels a little like The Dirty Dozen and a lot like Rockstar Games’ L.A. Noire, a video game heavily inspired by Curtis Hanson’s impeccable 1997 film, L.A. Confidential.
Fleischer’s film stars Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling as members of a secret police unit that wages an anything-goes war against notorious mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and the corruption that plagues the City of Angels.
Penn portrays the legendary Brooklyn-born Jewish mobster as a cartoon caricature – a mix of James Cagney in The Public Enemy and Flattop (William Forsyth) from Warren Beatty’s 1990 comic strip detective movie, Dick Tracy.
Penn’s over-the-top performance is actually more reminiscent of Jack Nicholson’s Joker (1989’s Batman) than a realistic interpretation of one of the most infamous gangsters in history. For the entirety of the film, I anxiously awaited a scene in which Cohen would swing around in an office chair and stare out from under his caveman brow and mutter, “Wait ’til they get a load of me.”
As for the good guys: Brolin, Gosling, Anthony Mackie, and Giovanni Ribisi form an Avengers-esque squad of crime fighters with a grizzled, asphalt-gargling Nick Nolte as their Nick Fury. Mackie’s good with knives, Ribisi is the surveillance expert, while Gosling is the silver-tongued ladies’ man in love with Cohen’s main squeeze (Emma Stone). Brolin, of course, is the unwavering hero – the Captain America to Penn’s comic book bad guy.
It’s always the same with these kinds of movies: the beyond-rich megalomaniacal crime boss takes over the city with a bankroll of crooked cops and politicians, battling a small group of do-gooders who refuse to be bought. Fleischer’s film stitches together clichés of nearly every gangster/noir movie you have or haven’t seen: Chinatown, The Untouchables, Goodfellas, The Godfather, Casino, L.A. Confidential, Bugsy, Public Enemy – you name it, it’s probably in there.
While not the complete failure that Brian De Palma’s The Black Dahlia was, Gangster Squad relies on the enthusiasm of a young audience that doesn’t realize this has all been done before – an audience who just wants to see Ryan Gosling in a fedora and Emma Stone as a ’40s Hollywood starlet ala Susan Hayward.
Gangster Squad is just another shoot ’em up movie that lacks the intricacies and depth of the films (and video games) it so desperately wishes to emulate. It’s as fun and entertaining as any cartoon, but by appealing to the widest possible audience, Fleischer has created an incredibly generic, forgettable movie.