Gangster Squad (*½) - AwardsCircuit.com - By Clayton Davis

Gangster Squad (*½)

gangster_squad-wideIt has been said that good things come to those who wait. Many know the story of Gangster Squad being delayed due to the horrific shootings in Aurora, CO in July and having to reshoot a crucial scene (the original was a theater shootout). Whether that re-shot scene had anything to do with the dismal final product we will probably never know but after seeing the film they could have stood to redo the entire film. Gangster Squad is a stylistic mess of a movie that gets bogged down by trying to be every gangster film you’ve ever seen without the aspects that made those movies great.

This movie is so incredibly cliché that it only seemed fair to review the movie in them. So without further ado…

1. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” And the weakest link of this movie is the script, which sets up an interesting premise only to undo the entire movie by not trying. The plot basically centers around Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) who is recruited by the police chief (Nick Nolte) to form the Gangster Squad (Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena and Robert Patrick) in an effort to disrupt the actions of a Los Angeles mob boss named Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Following this set up, Gangster Squad proceeds exactly how you expect this film to, right up to its insane let down of a climax. There’s one thing to work within a well worn genre, but it won’t ring true if all the film tries to be is a pig in L.A. Confidential and The Untouchables lipstick.

The dialogue is just bad.  Yes we know your characters are bad asses with decorated war histories and interesting perspectives. SHOW US instead of giving me lame speech after lame speech and generalized dialogue.  If I had to listen to one more animal or fight driven analogy delivered by Sean Penn or hear Brolin explain the purpose of their squad, I’d have volunteered to jump in one of the 5 million bullets fired in this film. And how the characters compared everything to the war! Granted that I was not around during the time period this movie draws from, but I’m hard pressed to believe that every scenario one could face would immediately go back to the war. As constructed, this movie would have you believe that talking about how it was “over there” and “during the war” was as common as asking what’s for dinner.

I will give the script credit for at least giving us some interesting character beats for the men,before swallowing them whole into mediocrity. That’s what is so awful about the movie is that it manages to subvert all its best aspects. Not to give anything away but Sean Penn’s crime mob has a particular character trait that lends itself well to the performance. So why would one undermine this very crucial trait in the climax?

2. “As long as she thinks of a man, nobody objects to a woman thinking.” This one is a bit more of a quote than a cliché but go with me on this. I know that in gangster movies it is often a woman that complicates the journey. But what was the point of just having the women in this tale to only be either pure fantasies (O’Mara’s wife) or bland archetypes (Emma Stone’s character)? And yes, I realize Emma Stone has a major role in the plot, but her character might as well be decoration because she isn’t allowed to do anything outside of just being there to spur on Sgt. Wooters (Gosling). It must be said as well, that while Emma Stone is a welcome presence in any movie, she’s not very believable as an etiquette teacher turned gangster’s girl turned Gosling bed mate.

3. “The actors chewed the scenery.” Good grief, the actors in this movie were hamming it up, which I suppose audiences should be thankful for because at least they were trying to do something with a droll script. However, No one in the film was doing more acting than Sean Penn. As crime boss Mickey Cohen, Penn masticates everything in his path, deliciously tearing into each savory line, not finding a word in this movie that he didn’t relish. (Enough food puns for you? Yes? Ok.) I wouldn’t necessarily say his performance was bad, but it is so far out of tune with what everyone else is doing that it comes off as caricature. Actually, I think I’ll take that back. The performance was awful.

4. “The road to hell is paid with good intentions.” Ultimately Gangster Squad is a well meaning film that is self sabotaging in the worst ways and just suffers under the weight of its desire to be something so grand despite not doing enough work to get it there.

5. “A fool and his money are soon parted.” Apply this logic to when you think about going to see this movie.

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When he's not enduring Shade Samurai training from Victoria Grayson, you can find Terence spends his time being an avid watcher of television, Criterion film collector, Twitter addict, and awards season obsessive. Opinionated but open minded, ratchet but with class, Terence holds down the fort as the producer of the Power Hour podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @LeNoirAuteur.
  • http://TheAwardsCircuit Joey Magidson

    I liked it a lot more than you, and lean 2 and a half stars here. I wasn’t disappointed, but my expectations were way lower than they were last year…

  • Steve Glansberg

    Ugh, Terence. Your #5 point successfully made me feel guilty about wanting to go see this film. I guess I’ll just wait until it hits the local dollar theater…but it’s January! There’s nothing better to see…now I’m faced with an unwanted conundrum.

    • http://www.awardscircuit.com Terence Johnson

      LOL! You should totally see Zero Dark Thirty if it’s open near you…

  • JamDenTel

    I actually thought the acting was generally okay (Anthony Mackie was really good, despite getting kind of shafted for screentime), and I thought it had some good moments scattered throughout, but I had the same “L.A. CONFIDENTIAL and THE UNTOUCHABLES in a blender” feeling from pretty much the first trailer.