Warner / 113 Minutes / 2013 / Rated R / Street Date: April 23, 2013
Guns and girls. Lots of them.
Gangster Squad is not a realistic movie, nor is it a particularly historically accurate one. No, this Sean Penn shoot-em-up takes a Moulin Rouge tactic to the crime drama genre, rendering the bloodshed of its narrative with a bacchanal joviality. Ruben Fleischer’s film doesn’t just like it violence, it revels in it, romanticizing it around every turn.
This is nothing new, of course, but what does this particular cinematic tack have to offer an audience who has already seen their fair share of bloody retro melodramas? Well, we have the Ryan Gosling factor (cue a gaggle of women running - not walking - to their nearest Redbox), and the rest of the cast here is no slouch, either: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Emma Watson – this is a Hollywood dream team at work.
Our film brings us news that in the late 1940s, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) pretty much runs Los Angeles, and chief of police Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) doesn’t like it. Parker realizes that normal authority channels aren’t going to hit Cohen where it hurts, so he decides to cobble together a dream team of an undercover squad to squash the gangster in the fashion he so fervently deserves. Cue gunplay.
The performances in Gangster Squad are without question its most valuable assets – Penn’s heavy make-up personification is predictably effective, but even supporting turns from actors like Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi are assured and unique. Unfortunately, the narrative at hand here is by-the-books at best, and grossly emotive at worst. Fleischer wants Gangster Squad to be a glittering Untouchables for the Avengers age, but even with instances of greatness within it, the movie can’t stand up under the weight of its unconvincing tone and structure.