Saturday, February 2, 2013

Gangster Squad

In January of 2012, I had the opportunity to visit Melbourne, Australia. This was shortly after I started this movie blog, and I actually reviewed my third and fourth movies while there—The Descendants and Tailor, Tinker, Soldier, Spy, the former still one of my most highly-ranked Buddies Forever Movie Club films. This January I returned to Melbourne and made it a point to see another movie with Australian Buddy Forever Josh Bell.

It was a tough choice between Gangster Squad and Silver Linings Playbook. I say tough because between Bell’s love of gangsters and playbooks, and my fondness for squads and silver linings, well we just couldn’t seem to make up our minds. Luckily time made the ultimate decision and we saw the later showing of Gangster Squad.

Australia's Josh Bell
Here’s how IMDb describes the film: “Los Angeles, 1949: A secret crew of police officers led by two determined sergeants work together in an effort to take down the ruthless mob king Mickey Cohen who runs the city.”

The film is loosely based upon true events and is essentially the story of how the mob, which has never had a foothold in the city, was kept out of Los Angeles. Of course that story was glorified, embellished and given the Hollywood treatment, but the material still proved captivating. I didn’t have high hopes for Gangster Squad going in, and I left feeling I got what I expected. I’m not saying that it was a great movie, because it wasn't, but it entertained me throughout.

The thing with Gangster Squad, at least for me, was that it would have made a better television series than a movie. Had the story unfolded organically over time and the characters properly developed it could have been awesome. Instead, we got a turbo version where everything was squeezed into a 113-minute timeframe.

As previously mentioned, the story was appealing but ultimately it was rushed. The transitions for scene to scene, no matter how much time had passed or travel was required, was instantaneous. This warped the timeframe and I can honestly say that I have no idea how much time the film covered. Did it take place over a few months or a few years? I’m not sure.

While I liked the story, my favorite part about the film were the performances. The cast was chalk full of A-list actors, and even though their characters weren’t fully developed, they were fun to watch. That applied especially to Sean Penn, who played the boxer-turned-gangster Mickey Cohen. Penn is a great actor with a tremendous range and it was exciting to watch him portray such a power-hungry, immoral and capitalistic criminal. It didn’t turn out to be an iconic role by any means, but it was a solid performance and showed that Penn has what it takes to play a mean bad guy.

On the flip side were protagonists Sgt. John O’Mara and Sgt. Jerry Wooters, played by Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling respectively. I was under the impression that the film would center around the latter actor, but the filmmakers did a good job balancing him with Brolin. I think both men are good at what they do, and that’s what they were in Gangster Squad—good not great.

The same can be said for the supporting cast, which included Anthony Mackie (who will play The Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Robert Patrick, Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi. They rounded out the Gangster Squad and each of their characters were interesting, but due to poor development they didn’t really make an emotional connection with the audience.

I will say that I was impressed by both Nick Nolte and Emma Stone. The former had a small part as the chief of police, but he made the most of his time onscreen. Nolte is getting up there in years, which haven’t treated him too kindly, but it’s still fun to watch him do what he does in suitable roles. Regarding Stone, I must admit she’s becoming quite the sex symbol, which surprises me given past roles she’s had. I’ve always imagined her as a good girl, but I’m becoming convinced that just might not be the case. I also think Stone and Gosling had good onscreen chemistry, much like they did in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

I didn’t care too much for Gangster Squad, but then again I didn’t hate it either. It was entertaining, and that’s all I ask for from a movie. Will it win any awards? Certainly not (it’s more on par with Lawless), but if you’re looking for some quick and cheap thrills for a couple hours Gangster Squad should do the trick.

Buddies Forever Movie Club Rating: 58%

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