Sean Penn has long been a favorite actor of mine. His career includes such classics as Bad Boys, Fast Times at Ridgmont High, 21 Grams and U Turn but to add Gangster Squad to his list has got to be killing him and he should kill his agent for getting him into it.
I’ve never been a Josh Brolin fan and now I remember why. His is a poor man’s Tommy Lee Jones at best and it is especially true in this movie. Moreover, the writing in this film is akin to something a freshman in high school could do. The film is just that train wreck you can’t take your eyes off of. Gangster Squad is a film that really should be watched by the Mystery Science Theater 3000 gang.
Sean Penn play Mickey Cohen, a 1940-50’s gangster in Los Angeles who also happens to be a good boxer. Penn I think is wearing face putty as part of his make-up and has a positively awful—almost comical accent. And as the ruthless gangster that he is terrorizes both his henchmen and innocent civilians alike. Our poor man’s Tommy Lee Jones is a former OSS officer from WWII that police chief Nick Nolte thinks can take down Cohen and his criminal empire. However, according to the chief, this has to be done off the books otherwise someone else will just step in to take Cohen’s place. “I want to talk to you about the war for the soul of Los Angeles.” That’s the exact line Nick Nolte’s police chief uses to give Brolin his assignment, and the dialogue only gets more ridiculous from there, with moronic screenwriter Will Beall aping the hard-boiled detective films of the past with no understanding of what made that old school purple dialogue work. The story doesn’t help anything either, starting with two scenes of grotesque violence and then idling forever before putting together the actual squad you’ve come to the theater to see. With the help of his angelic, pregnant wife (of course she’s pregnant) O’Mara assembles the customary blend of outlaws and roughnecks; the only one with any actual personality is Ryan Gosling’s Jerry, a smooth-talking cop with a gangster for a best friend and a dangerous eye for Grace (Emma Stone), Mickey Cohen’s kept woman.
An early scene between Gosling and Stone– who were so fantastic together in Crazy Stupid Love– falls flat under the weight of the old-fashioned patter, and it’s a dismal preview of the many flat scenes to come, even among squad members played by greats like Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena. Everyone is acting furiously, Gosling with an odd high voice, Brolin with his locked grimace– and nobody is getting anywhere, as the gangster squad embarks on a few half-baked schemes for catching Cohen with no sense of strategy or rising tension. We’re told that Los Angeles is crumbling under Cohen’s corruption, but we’re never shown it, and the stakes behind all these bloodbaths start to feel further away, until Fleischer’s stylized and slowed-down violence becomes dull, then repulsive.
Combining the worst of modern action sensibilities with a Disney World recreation of the past, while also wasting some of the most interesting screen talents out there, Gangster Squad is an incredibly frustrating film.
Furthermore, the movie is 2 hours long making it viewing even more tortious.