Many declare ‘three is the magic number’. Making his mark on the scene through ‘Zombieland’ and ’30 Minutes Or Less’, ‘Gangster Squad’ marks director Ruben Fleischer’s step up to the big leagues. Even he, mustn’t have anticipated the hampered production the project has had the misfortune of suffering. Reshoots prompted via the tragedy of the Aurora shootings mirroring a memorable ‘cinema burst’ sequence from the film’s glossy trailer, reservations soon reared their ugly heads in many a mind. With the overdue end product finally unleashed.. Does ‘Squad’ succumb to being at the bottom of the ‘food chain’?
Inspired by true events, we’re immediately thrown into the glitz and glam of 1940′s Los Angeles. Looks can be deceiving however, as LA is very much a ’damsel in distress’. With a grisly opening salvo, it’s clear from the outset who runs proceedings. One Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a larger than life boxer turned mobster with all the ‘Bada Bing, Bada Boom’ bravado you expect from the genre. Smuggling drugs into the city at the drop of a dime. Corrupting the minds of once morally sound cops. Cohen is at the height of his powers.
Keeping it strictly off the books, respected Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) deems it the perfect opportunity to hire the ‘heavy artillery’ and strike at the heart of his ever increasing empire. Headed up by crime fighting Sergeant John O’Mara played by Josh Brolin, he is bestowed the responsibility of recruiting and forming together an efficient team of street smart ‘outsiders’ to aid him in the fight against Cohen. The crew of misfits includes fellow Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), sidetracked as he attempts to romance Cohen’s latest squeeze Grace Faraday (Emma Stone).
‘Gangster Squad’ is far from the serious heavyweight genre entry many anticipated, which may prompt bemusement from hardened cinephiles taking into account the talent involved. Opting for more of a playful and deadpan approach, the film doesn’t quite possess the narrative punch or refinement of the classics it owes a debt to. However, Fleischer still proves efficient in amping up the entertainment value. The brutal bullet littered action sequences are impeccably staged within the confines of such a stylish period production and fittingly explosive, with only the indulgent visual trickery of ‘slo-mo’ wearing thin.
Performance wise, Sean Penn’s portrayal of Mickey Cohen inevitably steals the show. Spouting his venomous dialogue with almost a gleeful sense of enthusiasm, his memorable villain may make you wonder if Flesicher was aiming for ‘pastiche’ here. Elsewhere, Gosling’s dry wit is on display once again as he slaughters the ‘gung-ho’ approach of his team, whilst retaining the magnetic intensity that has made him a household name.
The cameraderie between the ’team’ is undeniable, with the likes of Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi and Anthony Mackie developing a fun dynamic to proceedings. Unfortunately chained to the superficial handling of her beautiful ’femme fatale’, Emma Stone however is fatally underused and offered little opportunity to rekindle the spunky chemistry with Gosling born out of ‘Crazy Stupid Love’.
Granted, it never threatens to reach the giddy heights of its illustrious genre counterparts. Nonetheless, ‘Gangster Squad’ is still a slick and unashamedly entertaining film further elevated by its game cast.