I have discovered that the key to enjoying any film, no matter how awful it might be, is to watch it with no expectations at all. In the end, you find out that you have had a couple of entertaining hours and there is no need to go back home huffy.
That is the case with Gangster Squad. I knew it was an interesting plot and all the actors involved don’t need any introduction. Yet, somehow it falls flat. But let’s talk first about the good things of the movie to find out why.
Violence. Brutality. You can be sure you will see both in Gangster Squad. And those scenes are breathtaking, with such rawness that you cannot do anything but to cringe in your seat. And the same happens with the action sequences. They are actually quite well done, with an impressive cinematography (kudos to Dion Beebe, who has an Oscar for Memoirs of a Geisha) that easily changes from restlessness to slow motion.
Sean Penn is never going to give a bad performance. No matter how good or not-so-good the film is, he always gives his best, and his portrayal of Mickey Cohen is not different. He loses himself in the role, like he always does, and the result is a very scary and insane character. You forget he was Harvey Milk, Matthew Poncelet or Spicoli. And above all, you forget he is Sean Penn.
But the weight of the film is carried by Josh Brolin, who has a gift for playing good-hearted tough guys. He is the one who wants to catch Cohen, the one who gathers the gangster squad together and the one who –SPOILER- captures him –END OF SPOILER-. My first memory of him is in The Goonies, and even then he was the tough boy, or at least the serious type. It is also interesting to see how his character and Penn’s are the opposite of the ones they played in Milk (heart-breaking film, although maybe a bit slow by the minute).
In contrast with Brolin’s John O’Mara, we have Ryan Gosling’s Jerry Wooters. In his case, he is a smartass playboyish cop who doesn’t support the hunt against Cohen until he abruptly finds personal reasons to do it. And then there is Emma Stone as Gosling’s love interest and Penn’s “girlfriend”. It is the typical love story one can see in these movies, like a 1940s version of Crazy, Stupid, Love, but the truth is that there is great chemistry between Stone and Gosling.
And as for the squad, they all share an interesting dynamic together, sort of like in Inglorious Basterds (give or take some obvious differences).
Overall, it is a witty film with really good acting, smart dialogue, sly and violent and with the usual American ending. Good to spend a couple of nice hours, because it has some cool scenes and lots of tension. But don’t expect it to be the best mafia movie you will ever see.
Not everyone can be Scorsese.
OTHER ASPECTS WORTH MENTIONING
The scene when O’Mara is recruiting his squad reminded me of the recruiting scene from X-Men: First Class.
The film score evokes superhero movies (especially during the action sequences). The composer responsible for it is Steve Jablonsky, famous for scoring the Transformers trilogy and Battleship (two of those four are a waste of money).
I am not spoiling anything, but I will say that I found funny the casino scene and the moment after it when Gosling’s character joins the team (the whole movie has some good “jokes”, truth be told).