The 400-Word Review: Gangster Squad
By Sean Collier
January 11, 2013

You should probably go see a doctor about that, Mr. Penn.

How to tackle Gangster Squad? The conquering story here is the film’s inescapable, accidental ties to mass violence. It’s trailer played with The Dark Knight Rises, including a now-infamous scene of violence in a movie theater; after Aurora, the trailer was obviously pulled, reshoots were ordered and the film’s release was delayed.

Just far enough to premiere in the lingering wake of the Newtown tragedy.

So we’re left to evaluate a hyper-violent, bullet-ridden flick that’s inextricably linked with real-life gun violence. Even though the film itself is, oddly, a light caper.

That’s a challenge.

Gangster Squad is a thoroughly fictional tale about a group of extra-legal coppers pursuing real-life gangster Mickey Cohen in ’40s Los Angeles. Other than its milieu and some of its weaponry, it has nothing in common with the likes of Public Enemies or other more serious takes on bygone crime; it has more in common with superhero movies (The Avengers, particularly) than those efforts.

Ultimately, it’s a “fun” movie. There are (bad) jokes. There are side characters with unusual relationships and predilections. There’s witty repartee between an unorthodox cop (Ryan Gosling) and a gangster’s token dame (Emma Stone, and yes, I’m still picturing them in their Crazy, Stupid, Love roles.) The characters that die are the characters you’d expect not to make it through the proceedings — and, despite one brief fake-out, no truly gut-punching losses are suffered by our heroes.

Alongside all those hallmarks of a popcorn selection, though, is the hyper-violence. And other than a pair of semi-creative, Tarantino-esque mob offings, most of that hyper-violence involves an unwavering spray of gunfire.

There’s no political commentary implied by simply stating that it’s not a good time for this kind of entertainment right now. You can feel any way you like about the role of media violence as an influencer of real-life behavior; you can fall at any point on the gun control debate you like. It’s still a fact that very few Americans are inclined to be entertained by a gleeful gun show at the moment. Even if you don’t ordinarily mind such on-screen, fictitious displays — and I generally don’t — it’s just not good timing.

That’s unfortunate for Gangster Squad, which might otherwise have been remembered as an enjoyable fantasy, particularly for the entrancingly hammy performance given by Sean Penn as Cohen. In January of 2013, though, Gangster Squad can’t escape its associations.