Reviewed by Ian Forbes
2013 is here and the first screening of the year I attended was Gangster Squad, a film about cops and criminals in 1949, “inspired by true events”. Right away, I knew I was in for some trouble and after all was said and done, 2013 isn’t starting how I’d like it to (this year’s Oscar nominations don’t help either).
On paper, this film should be a slam-dunk. Starring Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick and Michael Peña, it’s loaded with talent. There was a great deal of buzz about it last summer, prior to the tragic shooting in Colorado which forced the film to be pushed back and prompted the removal of a scene involving characters firing into the audience of a movie theater. It’s easy to say that having to rewrite elements and re-stage a pivotal scene is to blame but the truth is, there’s just not a lot to really like in the movie.
The main character (Brolin) is described in the movie as a Bull in a China Shop but that’s not necessarily a good thing because he’s completely one-dimensional; devoid of any nuance to make him interesting. And it doesn’t stop with him. Every character comes off without any shade of gray or straight out of some stock screenwriting handbook.
Emma Stone’s character is completely useless. It’s as if they were imagining what the poster should look like and though it needed a pin-up girl. Penn got a lot of time in the make-up chair, and probably had fun playing a gangster, but his character was almost as one-sided as Brolin and lacked the charisma that would make the villainous deeds stand out even more. Gosling comes closest to providing life to the picture but it was hard to get comfortable with the high-pitched accent he adopted and the calm, silent delivery he used was so reminiscent of his exquisite performance in Drive that I kept wishing I was watching that instead.
Director Ruben Fleischer doesn’t do much to help things either. After seeing his feature film debut, Zombieland, I was hoping this was a new director with promise. Then 30 Minutes or Less came out and stunk up the cinema. This was going to be the tiebreaker, as I think you need at least three examples from a filmmaker to determine if they’ve really got the goods. Sorry, Ruben. It doesn’t look like you do.
The movie opens to some strong violence, which is appropriate for the characters and the setting. But shortly afterwards, it veers into rather blasé gun battles and the odd fistfight, none of which are filmed all that interestingly. It’s more violent than the average film these days but falls in line with the actioners of the mid-90s and fails to do anything all that new after the 10 or 15-minute mark. This is made doubly worse towards the end as far too few characters end up receiving the kind of horrific end the audiences has been built to believe will be coming.
Pretty much every actor in the film deserves better and so will patrons who fork over their hard-earned cash. A script rewrite and a new director could have done so much more with the wealth of acting talent assembled; perhaps I would have been better served imagining what a good movie with all of these actors would have looked like. Sadly, the reality is a ho-hum gangster flick that’s not worth much more than a lazy afternoon on free cable.
Gangster Squad hits theaters on January 11, 2013 and is rated R for strong violence and language.
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