Reviewer: Charity Bishop
It's a tricky matter to film a gangster movie, because inevitably you will be compared to the gangster film of all time... The Godfather. In comparison, Gangster Squad is a film rich with untapped potential, full of clumsy and downright painful dialogue, and stilted performances.
Los Angeles is a town run by gangsters, corrupt politicians, and the occasional bad cop. In a sea of moral ambiguity, one man stands apart. Sgt. O'Mara (Josh Brolin) is dedicated to the true meaning of the law... justice for all. He doesn't care who he has to go up against, so long as the bad guys wind up in prison. His pregnant wife encourages him to be careful, since there's a child on the way... but trouble seems to find him wherever he goes. His interest is focused on the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), who runs prostitution rackets, among other things. No one can manage to make anything stick to him, even murder.
That's when street-savvy but soft-hearted Sgt. Wooters (Ryan Gosling) enters the picture. He too wants justice... but he finds something he wants just as much: Cohen's latest main squeeze and "etiquette teacher," Grace (Emma Stone). She's beautiful and it doesn't take long to win over her heart. In the meantime, someone up high thinks it's time to bring down the Cohen gang, and encourages O'Mara to form the "gangster squad." Violence, chaos, and misfortune is ahead for one and all and not everyone will make it out alive.
On occasion this film has moments of near-brilliance, among them a slow-motion gunfight in a hotel that spreads out into the street. There are small moments with the actors that are meant to invoke our emotion and some of them succeed, such as Wooters' relationship with a bootblack boy. The costuming is gorgeous, the weapons are cool, and it has a cast list that would make most moviegoers drool. Yet, a cliché-ridden script, bad acting, painful dialogue, and poor direction prevent this film from accomplishing any form of greatness. When going into a gangster film, you have to reduce anything that comes across as funny that isn't meant to be funny, including "authentic" 1940's catch-phrases. You can't have your actors spouting unintentionally hilarious, awful dialogue in what is meant to be a "serious film."
Then too, the script does them no favors, since it is full of plot holes, historical inaccuracies, and unexplained choices. We're supposed to root for a romantic couple that spend literally no time coming to know one another; we see them meet, the next thing we know they're in bed, and for some reason or another, later on she's willing to risk her life for him. There's no time to really get to know anyone, much less care what happens to them. It doesn't help that the film has no emotional highs or lows... in each instance of emotion, the director's choices on how it is shot or scored completely undermine the performances. The pacing is off and in a hero-driven film, when you get to the end and feel sorry for the gangster... it's a mess.
A woman is threatened with rape (manhandled and shoved onto a bed); a man and woman are shown in bed together kissing (bare shoulders); we see a woman in a strip club (immodestly dressed); references to prostitution, both as a trade and as a pay-off to a local judge; women dressed only in under garments are rounded up.
A dozen f-words, around the same number of GD and abuse of Jesus' name, general profanities, s-words, SOB.
A man is ripped in half by two cars driving in opposite directions in the first five minutes (dogs chew on his carcass). Blood spatters walls, windows, and streaks floors. There's a huge amount of mobster violence centering around people being gunned down. Four men are locked in an elevator and engulfed in flames; another has his hand sliced off; two men fight one another until one is a bloody mess.
Casual references to religion (a man says he is God,
another tells a woman he sells Bibles, hoping to get her to
sleep with him). Alcohol and smoking are present.