Gangster Squad hits theaters several months after the movie was supposed to premiere. More often than not, when a film is "moved" from another month between early summer and late December to January of the following year, it is because the quality is lacking to say the least.
Yet, those reasons for having the film's release date pushed to 2013 do not apply here. Responding to the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting tragedy, a scene was dropped and a new one added. The film is seamless in terms of what was cut and reshot. Our Gangster Squad review can firmly state that the film's adjustments are actually an improvement in storyline.
Gangster Squad features a huge cast with Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone leading the way in the bringing to life of the true story of the 1940's battle for the soul of Los Angeles.
Real-life LAPD officer John O'Mara was charged with bringing together a "gang" of cops that could, without the constraints of their duty in terms of the Constitution, do battle with Mickey Cohen's (Sean Penn) gangsters that were trying to take over Los Angeles.
The Mob had already successfully wedged itself into New York City and Chicago daily life and the Southern California city's top cop, Chief Parker (Nick Nolte), decides enough is enough. In order to defeat a lawless individual who seeks to turn Los Angeles back to the Wild West days, his Gangster Squad will have to take Cohen down through any means necessary.
Chosen to lead the squad is O'Mara (a steely Josh Brolin), who methodically -- with the help of his wife, given the fact that these guys have a large say in whether her husband comes home each night -- selects this crew. There's the technical guy (Giovanni Ribisi) with a family -- in a storyline that is almost too predictable-- and Michael Pena's Officer Ramirez and Anthony Mackie's Officer Harrison in roles where each make the most of their screen time.
Much of Gangster Squad is ripped from the headlines of the day. Based on the book of the same name, the film is directed by Ruben Fleischer, a guy who knows a thing or two about taking on a genre film and giving it something audiences have never seen before. His Zombieland broke barriers to put it mildly. With his latest, he takes a film noir idea, adds a light touch of humor to it, and tosses in a dash of realism and great performances to produce something special.
There is one caveat. Penn's Cohen is a bit too much. In some ways it feels as if the actor is channeling Al Pacino in Dick Tracy. And like the makeup job took away from Clint Eastwood's J. Edgar, so too is the case here as the prosthetic nose on Penn was extremely distracting. Rarely one to complain about a character's appearance, this was too much for Movie Fanatic to ignore.
Is the film that teases so well in its Gangster Squad trailer one of the best gangster films of all-time? No, and it's not even in the top ten. Yet, there is something so wildly entertaining about the film, that it is irresistible and a must-see.
There's a reason the studio released a Ryan Gosling Gangster Squad poster. His turn as Sgt. Wooters is one of the more outstanding personas created by an actor we believe is just getting going.
As shown with his Crazy, Stupid, Love quotes, Gosling has killer chemistry with co-star Stone. Their romance is a smaller spoke in the wheel of this picture and that is actually a good thing. Where they clicked in Crazy, Stupid, Love... in Gangster Squad it is not quite right. Stone is a fantastic actress, but perhaps a bit too young to play the gangster moll.
Yet, Gosling shows that he can be second fiddle to Brolin, which speaks volumes to a long and deservedly illustrious career for the Canadian actor. He is certainly a performer who deserves and should be a headliner. But, the star of this film is Brolin. The actor goes to places he's only teased before and gives justice a face that resonates.