Review: ‘Gangster Squad’ Packs A Powerful Punch But Lacks Substance

For years moviegoers have been waiting for the return of a true gangster film that could contend with the greats like The Godfather and Goodfellas. So did Gangster Squad get there? Not quite. An audience may leave the theater impressed by the showy theatrics of guns, and the meticulous detail of the 1940s Hollywood aesthetic, but we certainly won’t be talking about this one for years to come.

Director Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad throws enough violent punches that will keep any audience entertained, but inevitably goes pulpy when it should have gone with substance instead. While the chases are plenty, and the violent noir crime scenes are excellently highlighted in Fleishcher’s modern stylization, the film’s greatest downfall is with Will Beall’s light script, which will leave the audience wanting more out of the characters behind the guns and flashy costumes.

It’s surprising that a film that was once originally groomed for an Oscar-friendly September release date, could have such an underdeveloped script. It doesn’t take itself seriously at all, but it’s marketed as a cool gangster film, which is problematic. While the production design and costume design is simply stunning, which gives the film a unique authenticity of old Hollywood panache as a whole it does little to compete with its forefathers. At times it feels more like a satire than an homage.

At the center of the story is an east coast mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who is talked up as a terrifyingly intimidating thug. Cohen wants to own the City of Angels. To stop this from happening, a rough around the edges gangster squad is assembled and led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and a reluctant Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) to save their city from Cohen’s grasp, even if it means playing dirty. Brolin’s character blurs the line of good versus evil while pursuing Cohen. With Brolin, who is known to often ride that line of good guy turned bad, there’s a certain complexity that he could have given the character, but for the most part he sounds like he’s doing his best James Cagney impersonation.

A retired boxer, Mickey Cohen thinks nothing of having his goons cause chaos with creative killings, one that sees a man take a drill to the head. While there’s a lot of build up to Mickey Cohen he never comes off as too menacing. In fact, the most satisfying action sequences that make this film engaging have little to do with Cohen. One fantastic action scene shows the men in a quick shoot-em-up style in an alleyway, but Cohen isn’t present. For the most part, he’s just a puppet master.

'Gangster Squad' Packs A Powerful Punch But Lacks Substance