Movie Review: Gangster Squad
By Matthew Huntley
January 21, 2013
Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) is the stealthy, resilient one of the group, as well as the charming ladies’ man. Not only does he manage to sneak into Cohen’s lush Beverly Hills mansion to install a surveillance wire, he also woos Cohen’s image girl, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), right under the mobster’s nose. Within an hour of meeting her at a swanky L.A. night club, Jerry beds her and suddenly they’re in love. But I suppose it wouldn’t be a conventional crime drama without a sexy dame to thicken the plot. We know she’ll be put in danger and in need of rescuing at some point. Maybe it’s also a rule that if Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone appear in a movie together, their characters have to sleep with each other, although it was a lot more natural in Crazy Stupid Love.
Gosling can be a very good actor when he’s in the right role, but here he’s obnoxious and his qualities feel a bit anachronistic. He speaks with a high-pitched voice that makes him sound like a baby, which got on my nerves, and his bright, blonde haircut doesn’t seem right for the time. He seemed to be doing an impersonation of a 1940s cop than actually embodying one.
The other squad members include Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), the token black guy who has a gift for throwing knives; Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), the eldest of the bunch who’s also the best and quickest sharpshooter in town, and if you don’t think the movie will give him a crucial scene where he has to fire a very important shot at just the right time, think again; Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena), who can drive a car like a professional stuntman; and Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), the egghead with glasses who can do everything from launch toy rockets to tap into phone lines. There comes a point in the movie when Keeler tells O’Mara the line between them and the criminals is getting too thin, and I thought the movie might take an interesting turn and actually be about something, like morality, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Gangster Squad is simply hyper-stylized fluff that wants to incorporate as many conventions as possible, including a montage that shows the squad members taking down Cohen’s various operations; a by-the-numbers chase scene; a few standard shootouts; some inevitable deaths; and an attack on the squad members’ families. None of these scenes surprise us and we’ve seen them before.
So now that you know what the movie has in store, is there any reason to see it? Perhaps the gifted cast? Or the slick production values? Sadly, not really. Whatever substance there is behind the true story of Mickey Cohen or the police officers who prevented his east coast mafia from taking over Los Angeles has been dumbed down to Hollywood romanticism. I wonder how much better the movie would have been had the filmmakers invested as much time into the characters and story as they had the technical presentation. I can’t say for sure, but probably better than this.