Gangster Squad

Directed By: Ruben Fleischer

Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, and Robert Patrick

2012 was the year of long movies.  Many of them were good, but they were long.  The Avengers, Skyfall, and Lincoln all flirted with the two and a half hour mark, while The Dark Knight Rises, Les Misérables, and Django Unchained blew right past it.  Those are some long movies.  Because of this I made a New Year's resolution to try and watch shorter movies in 2013.  At first sight, Ruben Fleischer's Gangster Squad is a step in the right direction — a mob movie under two hours.  However, I have a few gripes with the film, and many of them can be resolved by adding to the film's runtime.  I guess my resolution doesn't have much of a future if I'm already suggesting that a movie should be longer in the second week of the year.

Every man carries a badge.  For retired boxer Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) that badge is a life of crime and an undying lust for power.  All this gangster wants to do is amass power and bring "progress" to the West Coast.  He takes over Los Angeles, and the city quickly plunges to hell.  Thanks to Cohen, drugs, prostitution, and gambling are rampant like wildfire throughout the city of angels.  To make matters worse, Cohen has paid off so many cops and judges that he's virtually untouchable.  Now, all he needs to do to take hold of the entire West Coast is to take control of the region’s money.  He needs El Dorado Trust, a company that specializes in wiring gambling funds.

Having returned from World War II several years ago, Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) doesn't see Cohen's version of progress as the better future for which he fought in the war.  After tearing down one of Cohen's pimp houses, his sentiment begins to resonate with Los Angeles Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte).  Parker tasks O'Mara with assembling a team to burn down Mickey Cohen's organization and drive him out of Los Angeles.  With the help of his wife Connie (Mireille Enos), O'Mara assembles a squad that includes Sergeant Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Detective Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Detective Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Detective Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), and Detective "Navidad" (Michael Peña).  These cops put their badges down and go to war with Mickey Cohen.  Meanwhile, Jerry begins secretly dating Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), Cohen's "educateur" and number one girl.

It's been a while since we've had a good mob movie.  I had high hopes that Gangster Squad would be that film to reinvigorate the mob movie genre.  Despite all its poignant jabs at American society, Killing Them Softly certainly failed at that a few months ago.  Because inconsistency and underdevelopment seem to be the primary items on Ruben Fleischer's agenda, Gangster Squad fares even worse than Killing Them Softly.  While Gangster Squad is an entertaining flick, it could have been so much more if it just had a little more time.

Ruben Fleischer really makes Gangster Squad a very inconsistent film.  At times, there's a cartoonish vibe to this depiction of the post-World War II underworld.  The unnecessary gore and Sean Penn's caricature of a 40's mobster definitely play into this.  At others, the movie is an ultra-violent mob flick with slow motion gunfights and a modern, gritty vibe.  This really holds true when the squad finds its rhythm and starts kicking ass and taking names.  All in all, Fleischer should have picked one of these two themes and made a more consistent film because this movie loses its identity in the process.

In Gangster Squad, Fleischer fails to build his characters and his story arcs properly.  He doesn't fully develop his characters.  He just gives inklings of their backstories and leaves the audience's imagination to fill in the blanks.  While that sort of filmmaking has its place, it's not here in Gangster Squad.  Consequently, all the characters are one-dimensional and lack any depth whatsoever.  Similarly, the major story arcs aren't fully flushed out.  For example, there's not enough on Mickey Cohen's rise to power or his impact on Los Angeles at the outset of the film.  As a result, we have no reason to care about this war between Cohen and the cops.  Character and plot development are crucial to telling a worthwhile story, and Fleischer tosses these important elements of filmmaking to the wayside in Gangster Squad.  It costs him dearly.

Fleischer's film does have some strengths.  In their Crazy, Stupid, Love. reunion, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone have some great moments on screen.  Josh Brolin and his co-stars also seem to be having quite a bit of fun as the gangster squad.  At the end of the day, however, the film's strengths are based on its star power.  To be moderately entertaining, Gangster Squad relies solely on the charms of its talented cast.  To be great, a movie has to be more than its actors.  Fleischer has completely wasted an opportunity to make this a great film to start off the new year.  If it were more developed and focused, this could have been something special.  Instead, it's a meandering, mediocre mob flick.  Gangster Squad gets a 0.06% rating.  Have a few rounds of beer with this one.