Film Review: Gangster Squad

Sunday 22 December 2013 by

Gangster Squad, Film, Ruben Fleischer

There is a distinct advantage to having Sky Movies, because you never get to miss out on a film you wish you had seen at the cinema – at some point they will appear.

This time it’s Gangster Squad. I’ll happily admit to loving violent, gory and action-packed films and I remember the trailer for this promising so much, with the added bonus of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone.

The general premise is very simple – a “gangster squad” of Los Angeles police pit themselves against gangster Mickey Cohen (played by a deliciously unpleasant Sean Penn). The squad, led by Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) are a mish-mash team of mavericks and each with their own special skill. Meanwhile, Mickey Cohen is determined to take over LA, with his own violent and inventive blend of prostitution, drugs and fear.

Cue a bloody and confusing back-and-forth between the goodies and baddies. If I’m honest, you don’t need to pay too much attention to the plot – it will bubble along superfluously and as long as you have a tenuous hold on it (cops = good and Mickey = bad) you’ll do fine.

The film itself falls into a lot of gangster tropes. You have the forbidden relationship, the sleazy club, and the shoot-em-up scene in a disastrously public area. Michael Peña as Ramirez and Giovanni Ribisi as Keeler are transfixing in their somewhat sidelined roles. Although Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are good (you can’t deny their easy chemistry and casual, comfortable brand of acting) they don’t steal the show – and are hardly given an opportunity to. Poor Stone’s character seems to be an added extra to break up the boy-fest. Despite that, one of my favourite scenes is the moment when Jerry, Gosling’s character, decides to get involved with the squad – it’s brutal, intense and heartbreaking.

In fact, beyond the odd spark from Penn, there are no outstanding performances at all. The star of the whole thing was the scene-stealing effects. They were understated in action film context, but the use of the camerawork was unmatched in its intuitive movement and placing. I loved the smart camerawork, the clever use of the effects just a touch to emphasise a point here and there – it was visually fantastic (think a clever precursor to Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby). It felt like it was more of a film for exploring the art of film than the depths of an intense plot.

Gangster Squad is less than a year old, and was definitely not the best of the year, or the worst, but it’s a contender when it comes to artistry. The only clause I would add to this is that I can see it dating very quickly – the techniques they used earlier this year are already becoming old news. I think this film will quickly fade in to the background; the fact that I was surprised it only came out in 2013 is already a sign that we’ve moved beyond. Not Gosling’s best (or Penn’s… or Brolin’s… or Stone’s…) but an entertaining watch for a quiet night in with a takeaway.

Rating, Review, Three

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