Thoughts on… Gangster Squad (2013)

Gangster Squad, 2013.

Directed by Ruben Fleischer.
Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Nick Nolte and Josh Pence.

Ryan Gosling Gangster Squad character poster


A 1940s crime tale about the rise and fall of gangster Mickey Cohen.

Gangster Squad

Let me start by saying that I enjoyed Gangster Squad, but it is far from spectacular.  It’s not even ‘great’, it’s just… enjoyable.

One of the problems that stuck out to me the most was how nothing was ever given time to develop.  Not a single character, nor plot point, is given room to breathe and develop any substance.  Everything is a shallow caricature of something which should have more substance; Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is a hardened war veteran, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a vicious man – it’s all told and shown to us in quick glimpses, nothing is ever given any depth.

The film seemed to be very quickly edited, and I noted how this really was to the detriment of the story.  There isn’t much of a story here and plot points come and go in the blink of an eye, which results in what were presumably very high stakes feeling like minor moments.  I think where this really showed was in the scenes surrounding the destruction of a major heroin shipment; we learn about the shipment and see its destruction in such a short space of time that it never feels like the significant moment in the downfall of Mickey Cohen that it was – “there’s a big shipment of heroin coming in…. good job [destroying] it guys”. I just wish things were given a little more time to be fleshed out and have meaning.

I particularly disliked the voiceover narration at the beginning and end from Brolin’s character, which just didn’t feel right.  Brolin himself gives an okay performance. Okay, nothing more.  I know people are praising Penn’s performance as Cohen, but to me it really felt like he was chewing more scenery than a Rottweiler puppy.  But maybe that again is down to the writing, and how no one is fleshed out.  Criminally underused is Emma Stone (The Amazing Spider-Man, Crazy Stupid Love) as Mickey Cohen’s want-away woman, Grace Faraday.  This is an immensely talented actress and her talents – barring serving as eye candy – are never on display.  It’s a shame, and a waste.  She is enjoyable in her scenes with Ryan Gosling (Drive, The Ides of March), who I do enjoy in this film.  Both have such good chemistry that despite the lack of substance they are able to bring something to their interactions together.  Gosling provided a few laughs and was enjoyable to watch, but again a waste of great talent.

The cast is definitely what made this an enjoyable watch; those mentioned plus the rest of the Squad – Robert Patrick (True Blood), Michael Pena (End of Watch) and Giovanni Ribisi (Ted) – create something watchable with what each of them brings to the table.  But unfortunately it could and should have been a lot more.

Gangster Squad potentially could be a film that really bores me on a second viewing at home. However, I did enjoy it for what it is on the big screen, but this was perhaps not the right call, for Ruben Fleischer’s direction and Will Beall’s story is definitely lacking.

Flickering Myth Rating: Film ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★

Martin Deer

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