January 15, 2013

Movie Review: Gangster Squad

Gangster Squad was originally slated for release late last summer, but in the wake of the Aurora tragedy the release was delayed. The delay was partly due to the gun violence, but I suspect it was more the scene depicting a gunfight in a movie theater. The studio was understandably concerned and rightly chose to delay it's release. They also went and removed the theater sequence. I do not agree with this decision even if the scene did not have any impact on the overall story. Still, I found myself in the theater unsure of what quite to expect.

The movie began, characters appeared, shootouts and chases took place, the film ended and I found myself grinning like a goon. Now, it is not that I loved the movie and it is not that I discovered some soon to be classic. What I found was a movie that seemed to enjoy not taking itself seriously and was often gleefully violent.

The story is pretty standard gangster stuff. Yes, it is based on a rue story, but I would not put this movie anywhere near an authentic reselling of what may or may not have happened. This is a pure exercise in genre entertainment where the enjoyment of the product is placed well above any desire to accurately reproduce the old war on crime. Still, the look of the costumes and sets, while a bit to the stylized side, certainly look good.

Gangster Squad tells the simple story of a small group of cops who leave their badges at home and cause a lot of trouble for gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Forget solving crimes or arresting people, that is not going to work with a guy who finds himself so far above the reach of he law, with virtually all the people in power in his pocket, why should he worry about some guy with a badge? It took some inventive thinking from the chief of police (Nick Nolte) to send in a detective willing to go all the way (Josh Brolin).

It's kind of funny, I find that I really don't have a lot to say about the film but still felt compelled to write a little bit about it. It might be because I think the movie is better than the critics would lead you to believe, or maybe because I found it to be more enjoyable than I was expecting. I don't want to imply this is great, but there is something about this movie that speaks to me in an unexpected way. Maybe it is the way Emma Stone smokes a cigarette or perhaps the way the squad is put together like a superhero team. Maybe it should have been called The Avengers: Gangster Squad.

The movie does have a bit of the freewheeling nature of director Ruben Fleischer's earlier film Zombieland. It has definite comedic undertones, characters that are caricatures of real people, and a certain joy in letting the bullets fly. Granted, there could have been a bit more blood, but I think they were caught between going too far over the top and producing a movie that was marketable to a wide audience.

Gangster Squad is a heavily stylized movie with a hyper realistic look and characters that are played to type. Brolin is the square jawed hero, Ryan Gosling is the nonchalant ladies man, Robert Patrick is the grizzled vet, Giovanni Ribisi is the nerd, and of course Penn is the determined and evil bad guy.

There is definitely something about this movie to like. It is surprisingly entertaining and the tongue in cheek approach makes it feel as if it were from another era. It is certainly a slick production and one that is well worth enjoying.


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