Movie Breakdown: Gangster Squad (Noah)

January 10, 2013


People are doing traditional-style reviews all over the web, so we decided to try something different.  In each “breakdown” we’ll take a look at what a film’s marketing lead us to believe, how the movie actually played, and then what we learned from it all.  Read on!

The Impression:

Ruben Fleischer hasn’t proven much to me yet. Zombieland is fun and silly and an intriguing twist on a tired genre, but 30 Minutes Or Less was a listless bit of un-fun. Gangster Squad has all the fixings for an amazing film – great cast, supposedly great script – but a last minute re-write in the wake of the Aurora theatre shootings, and the aforementioned mistrust of Fleischer might bottom it out.

The Reality:

There’s been chatter that Gangster Squad represents the new face of neo-noir. That this big, pretty, vacuous bit of scene-chewing represents the new norm for gangster films. If so, we’re in trouble. Not that Gangster Squad doesn’t have, er, something to it. For a good chunk of the film’s running time the combination of incredibly cool looking men, occasionally good acting, and almost non-stop machine gun fire is fun in a vapid way. Ryan Gosling is on a tear right now, and even though his character seems too modern for the 1940s setting, he’s almost entirely a pleasure to watch. Something I can’t say about Josh Brolin, an actor who I love and had imagined would never disappoint me. Here his Sgt. O’Mara character is a stocky, thick-chinned, balls-out, do-gooder … and that’s it. Everything that comes out of his mouth is such a monstrous cliche, that even Brolin can’t add any heft to the role. A complaint that could be leveled at the entire film – there’s so much cliche and rote action beats that no combination of performers could drag it out in to the light. Sean Penn, oh Sean Penn, is debatable, at times he seems downright frightening as gangster Micky Cohen, but if you let your suspension of disbelief waver for a moment, Penn’s Cohen flickers and its place is poorly made-up caricature of evil. There’s nothing wrong with a film that wants to be nothing but shooting, attractive broads, and good looking fellas – there’s just a way to do it (Fleischer I recommend you call George Clooney and Steven Soderberg). Gangster Squad feels like eating a huge piece of candy – the longer you stay with it, the less enjoyable it becomes, the tacky, sickly sweet nature wearing away at your stomach.

I can’t say if the Aurora shooting and it’s film-affecting aftermath made that much of a difference between that finished film and this finished film. It’s so slight, and eventually becomes so boring, that I can’t imagine that whatever existed before did that much more to salvage whatever Fleischer and company were attempting here.

The Lesson:

Emma Stone is only in this film for seven minutes. If you have Emma Stone, you need to be using her. This film doesn’t and though I won’t blame the lack of Stone for my opinion of the movie, but it certainly seems indicative of how much this film squanders.


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