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Goodfellas, Scarface and The Untouchables are just some of the great gangster movies that come to mind when thinking about machine gun-wielding men in three-piece suits and matching fedoras.
It is clear that no other gangster movies will ever be as good as The Godfather, but is Gangster Squad at least as decent as Michael Mann’s Public Enemy? Well, it is more than watchable, and it is exciting to see the director, Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less), recall the gangster movie heyday.
But if you’re expecting a heist-type story with smart planning, unforgettable action scenes and memorable characters. Well then you’re out of luck.
Gangster Squad holds a lot of promise with an all-star cast that suits their characters. Josh Brolin plays Sgt. John O’Mara, a tough, no-other-way-but-my-way kind of cop who is ordered to recruit a few men daring enough to attempt to take down the notorious mob boss Mickey Cohen, brought to life by Sean Penn.
The plot and setting is simple; It’s the late 1940’s, the war is over, organized crime is on the rise and those who fought the war either continue to do good or do the opposite. Sgt. John O’Mara is a war veteran who became a lawman along with Ryan Gosling as Sgt. Jerry Wooters.
They are tasked by police chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) to assemble a team of dedicated men to stop the tyranny of Mickey Cohen. Their mission will be kept a secret no matter whether they fail or succeed and they will act outside the force, undercover, as men with no specific allegiance. They use unconventional methods, taking down bad guys and shutting down their operations one at a time.
There are some exciting scenes involving explosions, fast-paced car chases and men spraying bullets everywhere. The fight scenes are raw, brutal and realistic.
At some points, time is slowed down to beautifully display the chaos as bullets leave the chamber of the gun and shred bodies, break glass and ruin Christmas decorations, which definitely provides the “cool” factor and makes it an action movie more than anything else.
A car chase scene where the juggling between action is well shot. And of course, there is a little bit of romance between Wooters and the mob boss’s mistress, Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone (because clearly, their chemistry in Crazy Stupid Love shouldn’t be a one-time deal).
The production design is impressive, and there are some good things to say about the world that it is set in. The costumes are well chosen to showcase 1940’s fashion, the ladies will surely appreciate seeing Gosling in suits (and be jealous when they see Stone in a beautiful red dress), guys who are into suits will also appreciate the characters’ wardrobes. Moreover, the restaurants and clubs are well made and really bring the world to life. The soundtrack chosen also helps bring the scenes together and highlights the classiness of American gangsters in the 1940’s, which reminds us of old film noir.
Missing from this movie is a deep emotional journey, like Ray Liotta’s character in Goodfellas or a deep insight into the mob’s operations. The movie is a classic case of style over substance.
With an actor like Penn, it is a shame that the character development is pretty much non-existent. As a villain, Penn’s character could be so much more, he is not complex or particularly sinister, the lack of background information makes him a bad guy that we will soon forget.
The rest of the squad members have the potential to be more memorable as well, but unfortunately they’re not. Gosling missed an opportunity to create a unique character like he did in Drive. It is not the actors’ fault, they are all exceptional artists, it is just the lack of depth to the script and character development.
As a result, the movie is stuck between a “gangster movie” and a “shoot-em-up”.
(113 minutes, Warner Bros. Pictures)
Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, Robert Patrick
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer: Will Beall
Producers: Dan Lin, Kevin McCormick, Michael Tadross
The writer is an intern at The Jakarta Post.