"Swanky and Cool - one of the few things that Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad has got going for it"
There’s nothing like a smooth, neat Bourbon down at Slapsy Maxie’s, eyeing up the red hot tomato at the next table, feeling slick with your pistol tucked into its holster, ready to gun a man down if you have to. It’s swanky and cool, and it’s one of the few things that Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad has got going for it.
In terms of relating to the 1940s it’s decent, and the film does impress in terms of car chases, with swooping shots from a chopper and run-of-the mill, yet exciting car explosions. It is a difficult thing to do, to capture the 40s in a world that is so far from that era, and in that sense they’ve done it justice, but the cinematography and make-up let it down; that is what happens when a gangster film has been shot digitally instead of on film. Classics like The Godfather and Goodfellas look and feel like they were set in the late 1940s, whereas Gangster Squad feels too contemporary.
There is a hefty amount of preened and airbrushed faces, freckles disappearing underneath makeup and suits that look fresh off the dry cleaner’s rack, and as such the film lacks in authenticity. This does, however, take a back seat when the storyline kicks in and the bull-headed Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) starts embarking on his vigilante-style attack against mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). He gathers a following of military masters and rejects – and one tag-along Mexican – and begins to unravel Cohen’s operations around the city of Los Angeles.
Everything seems to be going okay for the 1940s version of The Goonies gang, until you start to predict which of the characters are going to lose their lives and everything from there becomes all too simple to figure out. Half an hour in Sgt. O’Mara’s head has grown two sizes too big, but you know that Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) is the real hero. For the most part he cruises through the film with a cheeky, romantic demeanour and a pretty girl named Grace on his arm (Emma Stone), but overall Gosling is portrayed as a bad ass cop, ready to pump Cohen full of led. He’s even given his own theme song to cut across the silence of his hero-moment, slow-motion shot.
Unfortunately there is an over-use of slow motion shots, and although it’s perfectly acceptable to show off what these Phantom Flex cameras can do, it needs to be used in moderation. The beauty of Cohen’s muscles rippling through his body in the scene where he is going at his punch bag is ruined by the constant switches into slow motion every time a bullet or even a bauble is flying through the air. It gets to a point where it ceases to be used to make a shot look fantastic and becomes unnecessary for the sake of being ‘trendy’. Flashes are used frequently to light up a dark room revealing a stop motion shot of a fight scene, and this starts to work its way into the film, gaining a comic strip feel that wipes away the intense acting of Penn and Stone, the latter being one of the most sought-out actresses in Hollywood.
After all of the drama of the ‘squad’ hitting up Cohen’s joints around town, Grace turns out to be the damsel in the firing line when Cohen outsmarts them, showing them what it truly means to be a gangster by sending some of his cronies after them. As these powerful scenes are unfolding there is also a great balance of comedy and dark humour added in, portrayed strongly when an unfortunate gangster is having his brains drilled out onto a window, before the scene then transitions into raw mince being slapped onto a barbecue. Beef burger anyone?
To go from this passionate acting and gruesome humour to a shortened and rushed plot line too compact for this elaborate story is a shame, and a crime against the riveting 1940s gangster tale of the East Coast mob gangster Mickey Cohen and his insatiable need for power and money.