Gangster squad is the third film directed by Ruben Fleischer whose prior films have been comedies. Zomebieland and 3 Minutes or Less, a hit and a miss. Gangster Squad is his attempt at a departure to more serious action drama genre. It is not too far removed for Fleischer to pull off, but whether he can is questionable.
Sean Penn is the ruthless mob leader Micky Cohen who is trying to control LA’s drugs, gambling and prostitution ring with an iron fist. He is almost untouchable having bought over most of the politicians and police in the city. A secret police team is put together to bring down Cohen’s operation with an effectiveness that isn’t constrained by the legal system. Led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) all hell breaks loose as the shackles are off.
The sets and appearance of the characters are spot on, perfectly capturing the allure of the 1940s. What starts with stylised graphic violence and the promise of an interesting game of cat and mouse soon loses its sheen. It is replaced with numerous shootouts that blend in to one another. The guns go a blazing all too much without much room left to develop the characters properly. It suffers from poor direction for the actors who seem mostly left to their own devices. Josh Brolin does well as the stoic sgt and leader of the pack. Whilst Ryan Gosling swoons his way on screen as a hot shot young womanising cop Jerry. It is almost forgettable that Gosling actually has the ability to act, then he pulls out the crazy eyes and you’re back in. The line between cool and not doing anything is toed alot though. Sean Penn on the other hand is off the rails and ends up going over the top with his portrayal of Micky Cohen. Rather than creating a memorable menacing character he plays something which very much feels like a cartoon bad guy. The prosthetics and forced accent feel all too fake. It doesn’t help that he is backed up with an almost invincible right hand man complete with villainous eye scar.
It is hard to place where the tone of this film truly lies as it begins with a serious depiction of LA then rapidly turns in to a cartoon world. That is not to say there aren’t good moments in the film. But overall it is ends up being another run of the mill action flick but in a 1940s package.