After the Second World War the mob tried to plant its hooks into the West Coast. Unlike the rest of the country they were never able to establish a stronghold out there. That’s because the LAPD opted to go off the books and bring the fight to the mob, making it clear in no uncertain terms that they weren’t welcome. That’s historical fact … and that’s about as much as the actual story and Gangster Squad has in common despite both covering the same topic.
O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is a paragon of virtue trying to do the right thing in a police department that’s highly suspect at best. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is dead set on running LA’s criminal underworld. The police commander gives O’Mara one task: bring war to Cohen and his operation by any and all means necessary. He recruits a group of cops (Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena) willing to join O’Mara in their quest.
The thing that stands most about the film is how stylized it is. Ruben Fleischer isn’t going for an accurate version of era appropriate Los Angeles; this is how we remember it in films, music and all, and a stylized version of it at that. Fleischer has crafted a film that sucks you in with just how remarkable of an environment that’s been created.
And that’s the film’s main problem: it’s too much sizzle and not enough steak.
Gangster Squad is a low-rent version of The Untouchables, a B-movie version of the Costner classic, and has no qualms about it. Sean Penn is still passing bits and pieces of the film through his intestines as he chews more scenery in that film than perhaps in his entire career up to that point. The good guys are virtuous and there’s no shade of grey. The problem is that you can make a great film like this … but Fleischer only has a good one in him because he doesn’t have anything deep inside his characters.
It’s the one thing that separates Gangster Squad from being the great film it could be. You could switch up the characters and actors and not miss a beat; there’s nothing but brief descriptions of each character that they it’s to get confused despite them being played by wildly different actors. Everyone is so bland, outside of O’Mara, that it winds up dragging the film down to mere respectability.
Fleischer contributes a commentary track, a couple of historical pieces on the period, a handful of deleted scenes and a generic making-of piece included.
Warner Bros. presents Gangster Squad. Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Written by Will Beall based on the book by Paul Lieberman. Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte. Running time: 113 minutes. Rated R. Released: April 23, 2013. Available at Amazon.com.