Friday, 11 January 2013


Gangster Squad is the third film from Ruben Fleischer, director of Zombieland and 30 Minutes Or Less, and is a 113 minute game of dress-up. It is a stylish slice of forties-set pop mobster drama but, in terms of capturing the grim realities of the period in credible fashion, the characters might as well be clad in spandex.

Crime lord Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn, under a wrinkly prosthetic forehead and lumpy nose) is feathering his nest in Los Angeles and the only recourse left to police chief Parker (Nick Nolte, under his own wrinkly forehead) is to go off-the-books with a bit of heavy-handed brute force. He recruits bullheaded Good Cop Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to put together a motley crew to bust heads and take down the Cohen operation. The team - Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Peña – are assembled with a minimum of fuss and few obstacles, which is exactly how the film itself plays out.

It is a straightforward tale, bordering on slight, and it doesn’t strive for an authentic, or even deep, look at post-war LA. Instead it checks the required boxes and has fun playing with the iconography while doing nothing new with it; sultry gangster’s moll Grace Faraday (Emma Stone, glammed-up and miles away from her usually wholesome screen persona); crooked cops; bust-ups in burlesque joints; the rat-a-tat of Tommy Guns; dapper suits and hats. Lots of hats.

While individual characters within the titular squad have mileage there isn’t much of a dynamic developed between them and that does nothing but harm the premise of it being about assembling a team. The actors are never given the opportunity to develop beyond when we first meet them. Gosling has a twinkle in his eye but that is all he is allowed to have. Brolin has muscular presence in fights but his impact elsewhere is less keenly felt.

Sean Penn is allowed the most fun and gives his depiction of a one-dimensional despot plenty of continuously-snarling menace – although the effect is that after a scene or two he is less of a coiled spring and more of a shot bolt.

Many of the action scenes are presented in the modern, slow-mo style that gives them the instant whizz-bang of a pop promo but makes them seem more concerned with looking slick than the impact of that action on the characters. This is particularly evident in the climactic shootout where slow-shattering baubles distract so much that you can barely pick people out among the pretty carnage.

The hand-to-hand combat scenes are altogether more impressive than their armed counterparts, rattling the screen with a series of juddering blows and heightened crunches. While there is about as much to it as your average superhero film, it is set apart from its family-friendly brethren by glibly violent splashes.

It is impressively taut and doesn’t feel padded. The period detail is neat if overtly flashy, which is quite fitting as the film is entirely about the aesthetic. It won’t try to confound you with plot twists or convince you about the moral dilemmas of its actions; it is fully content to simply entertain with its bombastic qualities and impeccably tailored sense of wish fulfilment.



  1. All flash with zero substance, and a sometimes jarringly uneven flash at that. Shame, too. I was looking forward to this one for a long time. Good review Ross.

  2. Another gangster drama from Hollywood. There is nothing new in it. The story is often repeated in earlier Hollywood Gangster movies.