The police chief (Nick Nolte) in Gangster Squad warns Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) that there are two things a person can’t take back: “bullets outta your gun and words outta your mouth.” Well, I’d like to amend that list because I very sincerely wish to take back seeing this movie.
Imagine the most stereotypic gangster movie: the clothes, the violence, the way of speaking. Imagine Scarface, but without the credit of any level of originality, and you might have conjured up an accurate picture of Gangster Squad. The film follows the reign of Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a Capone-style kingpin who’s taking over Los Angeles, and a group of unofficially/officially commissioned misfit cops who join together to stop his evil plot: the Gangster Squad. The problem is that nothing in this movie lives up to its potential.
Advertisements had suggested that the romance between Ryan Gosling’s character and Emma Stone’s would be a major subplot—even a driving force—but the scenes that progress the relationship are chaste and can be counted on one hand. The violence, chock-full of Tommy Guns, isn’t dastardly enough to be worthy of the R rating. Nor are the love scenes, seeing as there are none. Also, Mickey Cohen’s schemes are greed-driven, and while the character is violent in nature, his success would not mean the imminent destruction of lives and civility, just the loss of money. So while he is definitely an evil villain, he’s not very interesting and it’s hard to be invested in his downfall. There’s a talented cast in place, a few of whom were responsible for my wanting to see the movie. But they all play characters the average audience has seen many times before. Either they’re one-note and shallow or have an unoriginal complexity like the bad-boy with a heart of gold.
The blame lies largely with the uninventive screenplay written by Will Beall, whose sparse IMDb credits indicate his limited film-writing experience. There is never enough at stake and far too much awkward dialogue, such as “Who’s the tomato?,” uttered by Sgt. Jerry Wooter (Gosling) when inquiring about Stone’s redheaded character. Sure, people die and families are ruined, but nothing about those supposedly dramatic scenes are emotionally moving; maybe the blame is equally shared with the director Ruben Fleischer. Unfortunately, it’s not even the type of bad you find yourself giggling over—I laughed more in Twilight. Flat all around, Gangster Squad is simply a lackluster story wrapped up in predictable and cliché direction.