Gangster Squad – Film Review
Hey, look. It’s real Emma Stone. I’ve missed you.
Now leave this movie behind you and go be in something good again.
TL;DR Gangster Squad is bloated, dull, and joyless. A refreshing splash of violence and a typically stoic performance from Josh Brolin don’t hurt, though. 2 out of 5 stars.
The plot is something something gangsters vs cops. There’s a gang boss, drugs, hookers and virtuous do-gooders fighting against a climate of criminal oppression. You know how this works. Brolin leads a rag-tag group of cops (the gangster squad. Get it?) against Big Bad Sean Penn. They win. There’s a shallow romantic subplot between Stone and a phoned-in Ryan Gosling which, sadly, does not result in any head crushing.
But there is a The Hitcher-esque bisection near the beginning. Close enough.
Gangster Squad’s major flaw is how boring and bland it is. There’s nothing here that you wouldn’t find in any other gangster movie. Except the delicious violence, which admittedly feels out of place anyway.
The Gosling/Stone subplot exemplifies the issue. They have no real reason to be together other than “the plot says so” and “hey, you guys remember Crazy, Stupid, Love, right?” Gangster Squad must have realised late-game that there was no obligatory sex kitten and just chucked Emma on in there.
Why I hate this movie:
None of the characters get any meaningful development. They’re all just archetypes. Brolin is the conflicted hero leader, Gosling is the flaky sidekick who comes through when times are tough, the black guy is the black guy, Giovanni Ribisi is the smart guy, the grizzled old guy is the grizzled old guy, and the Mexican is completely marginalised. Stone doesn’t do any better. Penn probably gets the most character development out of everyone. Not sure if subversive or unintentional.
Bonus demerit points for Stone’s back story being “I came to LA to be a star.” I’m fairly sure that Gangster Squad is going for the stereotype thing, but that’s just lazy.
There’s a distracting undertone of parody running through the movie. Sometimes it almost gets there (like when they fail to pull the bars out of the prison holding cell), but most of the time it just makes me question whether I should be taking this seriously or not. When you start off with a guy getting ripped in half, then later have a bumper fall off during the prison rescue attempt, I don’t know what you want me to think.
Gosling is very Serena Van Der Woodsen about his relationship with Stone. Brolin straight-up tells him how dangerous and stupid it is, but Gosling’s all pouty and like “No, we’re in love, which trumps all reason.” Go back to the Upper East Side, honey.
They’re also horrifyingly bad at keeping their relationship a secret. Penn’s goons supposedly run this town, yet she has no problem just going to Gosling’s house to have sex, then leave in broad daylight in the morning. I’d expect a homicidal mobster’s trophy girlfriend to be a little more discreet with affairs that could get her/her boyfriend killed. Penn shows no particular affection towards her, so she’s obviously disposable.
Stone doesn’t just, like, leave town when she knows Penn wants to kill her. This is made much worse because Brolin’s wife and newly born child just get their butts on a train to safety until all this shit is done. But no, Stone is too amazingly in lurrrrve with Gosling to be anything close to smart.
The squad righteously burn all the money when they raid Penn’s gambling operation. Which Penn immediately identifies as an act of justice (as opposed to an assault from a rival gang), which leads to him killing Ribisi and giving Brolin’s house a drive-by. Oopsie-doodle.
Oh, and the squad is upsettingly cavalier about fucking murdering hordes of guys just because they’re affiliated with Penn. The most bizarre instance would be the final raid on Penn to arrest him. They have a massive, obvious fire fight in the streets of LA in order to arrest 1 guy for the murder of 1 other guy. What the fuck?
Reasons to watch:
I wasn’t kidding about that bisection. It’s gnarly (I’m a 90s kid. I’m allowed).
And there’s a sufficient amount of arterial spray peppered among the rest of the action scenes, too.
The action itself is the best handled aspect of Gangster Squad. The fire fights are great. The car chase scene when the squad attacks a heroin shipment is the standout. A pretty cool combo of practical effects and CGI. If you’re gonna go CGI, that’s how you do it.
Penn is the most exciting character. The former boxer mob boss has a little bit of complexity. His greed is born out of fear of losing what he’s worked for, and he seems to have a chip on his shoulder about his prize-fighting history. He loses his cool regularly, too, which makes him appear human (and not in a disempowering way).
He picks up best line when the squad is making their final stand on his hotel suite. He has priorities in order when his lackey tries to get him to hurry up: “Can I get my tie on!?” Fashion matters. Even to brutal gang lords.
His ruthlessness is enjoyable. After a gaggle of goons mess up a brothel operation he has going (thanks, Brolin), he burns them alive in it as punishment. And he collects the insurance money. My kind of villain.
The sex slave thing is so Bates Motel (shameless plug).
Brolin’s wife is a bit of a badass. She handpicks all the squad members (except Mexican, but he doesn’t matter). And during the drive-by, she stress births her baby. Uterus of steel.
The decadent nightclub is pretty.
As is Stone. Always.
The old guy gives aiming advice that reminded me of that Futurama episode with the Space Invaders parody (YouTube did not provide a clip, so you’ll have to just dig into your nostalgia bank for that one).
Oh, and Brolin and Penn get to beat the shit out of each other. It was great.
So so so soooooooooooo meh, though. 2 out of 5 stars.