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Published on January 11th, 2013 | by simeon

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Gangster Squad

“Inspired” by true events, which in Hollywood means that history mostly gets ignored in favor of action, Gangsta Squad is a very simple story. A squad of police officers “off the books” team up to stop a mafia boss from taking over Los Angeles in 1949. Yes, basically that is it. You know everything you need to know from the trailer.

Gun toting gangsters, shootouts, smooth characters and car chases. This movie is trying to be an updated version of The Untouchables (1987) on the west coast. Only that film delivered more depth of character and a better all-around story. For those looking for anything more than a fun action film will be disappointed. For everyone else, this movie is entertaining.

Visually the film captures the time period well. All of the actors fit in each of their roles and you believe they actually belong in that era. Additionally, the use of framing shots in various angles and lighting are somewhat reminiscent of a film noir style (obviously not black and white). This helped create a world that is visually pleasing to the eye.

There are solid performances from an ensemble cast led by Sean Penn (I am Sam) who plays eccentric mob boss Mickey Cohen. Penn is the biggest and only standout performer as his character is the only one that we get any real insight on that is not superficial. We learn how he has been a fighter all his life to take and keep what was his. As such he seems very much the formidable villain that the gangster squad is trying to shut down. However, going with the cinematic style of the film, Penn’s character, along with the others, almost takes on a cartoonish detective serial quality that makes them all one dimensional.

Josh Brolin (Men in Black 3) plays the hard headed, honorable tough guy cop Ryan Gosling (Drive) plays the cool, smooth and collected lady killer. He gives his performance in a voice that holds true to the cartoonish detective style that plagues Penn’s character. Not too high, not too low but matches his character’s style though it may comee as an annoyance to some. Anthony Mackie (The Adjustment Bureau) plays the street smart beat cop who is looking to make a difference. Robert Patrick (Terminator 2) plays the old gunslinger along for one last ride into the sunset who is followed around by the “young guy” Michael Pena (End of Watch) who idolizes the old hero gunslinger. The group is rounded out by Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room) who plays the quirky communications and intelligence expert.

All of these roles are played well by really good actors, only they all have nothing to act with. There is absolutely no depth to any of these characters other than what I just explained. This creates apathy among the audience which devoids the movie of any tense moments during any of the various shoot outs. To be honest, it takes a lot of effort to really care about any of these characters.

This cast is rounded out by Emma Stone (Easy A) who plays the pretty girl on the arm of the powerful mobster that the lady killer steals away. Like the others, this is all the depth you get from Stone. However it must be noted that Stone’s natural look, red hair and smokey voice contribute to the romanticized style of the era. It is a real shame she did not have more to work with, especially across from Gosling who she had previously worked well with as a love interest in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

So in the end we find ourselves with a mostly superficial film that is visually pleasing. And if you know this going in, you will be entertained. There are plenty of gun fights and car chases to keep the story and action moving. And at no time did it ever feel dull or slow right up to the final shootout, which is grand, but not over the top and ends this movie on a Hollywood high note. I am not saying that this film is great, but at least it is entertaining.

3 of 5 stars


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