Gangster Squad

7.5 Overall Score
Visuals: 9/10
Plot: 7/10
Characters: 6/10

It's gritty, it's violent, it's fun, and most of all, it's entertaining.

Some of the characters are flat, and the movie comes up short in substance.

If you haven’t seen an ad for Gangster Squad in the past few weeks, you must be living under a rock. That, or you live in some rural community where power lines don’t reach and newspapers are all but extinct. Either way, promotion for this movie has been all over the place, and whether or not you’ve seen Ryan Gosling promoting the film on Conan, you can’t deny that. With an honor roll cast and its apparent non-stop violence and action, Gangster Squad promised to kick off 2013 with quite the thrill ride. But does it live up to the hype? The answer is a subtle “yes,” and that’s because the film misses on a few key elements – specifically character development and density – that could’ve made it a phenomenal crime drama rather than the solid one that it is.

Following the story of Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a mob leader in 1940s Los Angeles, Gangster Squad highlights a police unit’s mission to take down Cohen’s crew of crime-committing criminals. Josh Brolin (No Country For Old Men, True Grit) is the main protagonist and the leader of this so-called “gangster squad.” He teams up with Jerry Wooters, played by Gosling (Crazy, Stupid, Love., Drive), and several other officers, including Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena. In the midst of the gangster squad’s gameplan of pretending to be mobsters in order to shadow their true identities from Cohen’s gang, Wooters falls for Cohen’s girlfriend Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone (Easy A, The Help). The plot is based off a true story, and a very intriguing one at that. Director Ruben Fleischer drenches this story with exciting car chases, shootouts, and vast intensity. However, one thing he leaves out from the movie is character expansion and emotional connections.

Though it could’ve torn the movie’s greatness to bits, the lack of substance only partly takes away from Gangster Squad‘s overall enjoyability. There are far too many quotable lines and memorable moments to nag at the thin layer of personality and meaning. Gangster Squad goes for style over substance, and since when has that always been a bad thing? It’s comparable to a Tarantino film, minus the witty dialogue and complex plot. The action sequences are quite impressive, and though there is a high amount of violence, none of it seems to go too far over the top. Many moments of comic relief add to the film’s entertainment value – that is, even if some of the comedy tugs the line of making Gangster Squad a parody. And while the action, grit, and violence are enough to satisfy on their own, strong sensory detail and a realistic setting gives 1940s L.A. a powerful overall appearance.

Again, the character development is something to point out. While I typically love her, Stone’s character is probably the flattest of them all. She’s far from the dynamic, likable Olive Pendergast, that’s for sure. Gosling also seems to lack some depth, but he makes up for it with his sharp tongue and hilarious body language. But, as a result, the relationship between Gosling and Stone seems a bit shallow – far from their great chemistry in Crazy, Stupid, Love. Brolin gives a reputable performance as the film’s main hero, making up for the rest of the squad’s lack of depth. The squad just seems kind of thrown together. That being said, Penn (Milk, Mystic River) plays a phenomenal Cohen. He’s probably the most thick-skinned character in the whole movie; he’s powerful, he’s scary, and he makes for a fantastic antagonist.

Considering that the film was only an hour and 50 minutes, another half hour of character development and exposition could’ve helped make the other characters seem more important. The action and stylization really seems to take precedence as the movie flies from conflict to resolution, and that will come to hurt the movie and its lasting value. By the end of the year, I’m sure a lot of people will have forgotten about it. However, the film won me over with its explicitly violent, grit-ridden approach. Even though the audience connection is sparse, Brolin and Penn give impressive efforts to keep the hero-villain meter high. In addition, the movie was exciting from start to finish, and it was full of commendable action scenes, quotes, settings, and cinematography. And that’s all an action film needs in order to be good, right?

It may lack depth due to its mediocre character development and problems with its star-studded cast, but that doesn’t mean Gangster Squad isn’t enjoyable. Movies are meant to be entertaining, and was I entertained throughout the film’s 110-minute runtime? Absolutely. But substance is also necessary in order to become fully entrenched into a film, and Gangster Squad falls a little bit short in that category. In the end, though, the ample amount of action and violence made this movie worthy of my attention. This was the film that Lawless and Public Enemies should’ve been. While it probably won’t be a contender for movie of the year, Gangster Squad was a great flick to kick off 2013.


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Author: Tim Dodderidge View all posts by
I'm a student at the University of Kansas hoping to major in journalism. I love Christopher Nolan films, eating at Taco Bell, and playing indoor soccer. I also like to watch How I Met Your Mother and enjoy writing poetry.

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