Movie Review #630
Studio: Langley Park Productions – Lin Pictures – Village Roadshow Pictures
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Spoken Languages: English
Directed by Ruben Fleischer. Produced by Dan Lin, Kevin McCormick, and Michael Tadross. Written by Will Beall. Based on the book “Gangster Squad” by Paul Lieberman.
Rated R by the MPAA for strong violence and language. Runs 1 hour, 53 minutes. Premiered in Hollywood, California on January 7, 2013. Wide release in the USA on January 11, 2013.
Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen. Also starring Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Adam Beach, and Robert Patrick.
“Gangster Squad” doesn’t even hesitate to tell us that it’s “inspired by a true story.” Fact: it’s the same as noting “based on a true story.” Just don’t worry about a title card if you know you’re movie isn’t good enough to win an Oscar. But more on that later. Mickey Cohen is the subject of this story. Most of it is in gossip during the exposition. We see him enough, but come on, we need to see more of his personality. The number of people who fear him (i.e. “Mickey’s gonna get you for that”), you’d think he’s Michael Myers or Hannibal Lecter. If only we knew for sure he had Hannibal’s cunning, to make him an interesting character, aside from the massacres that happen when he shows up.
One thing I’m sure of is that Cohen is Jewish, because a) it’s stated in the beginning, and b) I got much better insight about Mickey Cohen and his persona when I was at the Mob Museum in Las Vegas. I digress. His religion is one of few things you want find in Martin Scorsese’s filmography. Let’s be clear, this could be a ripoff of his entire filmography. Ruben Fleischer uses a beaten-up font to reveal the titles to us. “The Departed”. We open being told that a boxer has gone to another profession. “Raging Bull”. Scene two: a group of guys tortures and kills a man who seems completely innocent, and is begging for mercy. “Goodfellas”. An extended opening narration. “Goodfellas” again. Oh and “Casino”.
I found myself frequently pointing these little tidbits out. Though if “Gangster Squad” needed a director, Scorsese would have directed it in a heartbeat. Instead, it’s a film-noir with two shallow focuses: to visually list off every kind of crime committed during the 1940s; and to make us wonder why there’s jazz music playing throughout a movie about the Big Band era.
The movie scores on its A-list cast. Emma Stone looks great and can act. That’s something one can say about any of her movies, but it’s especially certain here. She stands out above the entire cast. On the other hand, her chemistry with Ryan Gosling (who, alone, is great) is largely superficial. I was instantly reminded of their pair in “Crazy, Stupid, Love.”, two years ago.
“Gangster Squad” is nicely filmed, but not without a questionable video game look. You can thank the wasted set design for this. It’s an honorable choice in an era where location shooting is common, but all that honor is corrupted by a group of lazy set decorators and art directors. Look beyond the actors, even at a prop, and you’ll notice everything in the background is a cheap façade. It makes the extras look like what they’re doing is scientifically impossible, as they meander the set pieces.
So many opportunities were scrapped here. The worst of it is, in this entire high school play of a movie, the script (a rewrite of “L.A. Confidential”) had no Honors students involved, whatsoever. Humor is brought up intentionally, and at inopportune times. Dialogue is deranged with its lack of reality. The narrative is wildly uncontrolled. Appropriately, “Gangster Squad” was released in the month of January. But remember those ads that said “Coming October 2012”? Time was allotted for reshoots, and thank God. It’s über dangerous to release a movie like this right around Oscar season.