January is a traditional film “dumping ground.” Studios often save releases they feel are not holiday-season worthy and release them during this obscure month. Several new releases look to rise above the status quo and become diamonds in the rough, such as the films “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Broken City”.
“Gangster Squad” is another film which has that potential. The 1940s mobster tribute, which boasts Oscar nominees such as Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn, follows several detectives who are assigned to take down notorious gangster Mickey Cohen. However, is the cast able to elevate the relatively simple plot? Is the violence a bit too much?
Austin Flynn: I was ready for a well-written gangster flick after seeing this movie’s trailers. Unfortunately, the film just didn’t have a strong script. The movie barrels along with action scene after action scene, and it relies heavily on gunfights to keep viewers involved. “Squad” is a fast-paced film, but it left me wanting more character development. While Emma Stone is featured toward the end, for example, I thought her part was very small and lacked any big- picture importance.
Karsten Burgstahler: I completely agree. Stone’s star power is undeniable. While she nails the femme fatale role, she could’ve been given more to do. Mireille Enos, who plays Josh Brolin’s wife, also had a shortened role. Brolin plays the same hard-boiled and always-serious character in nearly every movie. Penn steals the show as Cohen; he dominates the screen in each of his scenes. He clearly has a good time as he spits out corny gangster lines such as “Santee (sic) Claus is coming to town!” while he opens fire. The plot is minimal, yes, but honestly I didn’t expect much more. I hoped for more, but this always seemed like a simple revenge flick to me.
AF: Once I accepted the movie as the shallow blood-and-guts film it is, I’ll admit it was an enjoyable shoot-’em-up flick. The squad reminded me of a 1940s “A-Team” with members who specialize in cool. Gosling starts the movie as a smooth-talking boozer, which was a smart casting choice. Penn plays the gangster boss well, but I couldn’t take him seriously because I kept seeing his “I Am Sam” character in Mickey Cohen, which frankly is a very strange combination. The film’s finale was expected but fun, and it left the impression most people would expect from such a flick.
KB: It’s funny you should say that. It does leave a bloody imprint, tommy guns and all. However, director Ruben Fleischer added a stylized violence angle. Several gunfights occur in slow motion, and blood often splatters the camera. The film is a gangster picture and modern violence fusion, which works for a while but is eventually a distraction. “Squad” definitely scores style points, and Gosling is perfect for his role so I can’t understand why Fleischer added scenes that gleefully approach violent “Saw” territory. The film is enjoyable, but it squanders clever ideas. I simply expected more.
1hr 53min – Rated R – Drama