Review: Gangster Squad (2013)
The film noir genre, by its very nature, is a genre both stylized and rough. While sharp costume design, shadows, hard boiled dialogue, Dutch angles and hazy sunlit cinematography are part of the package deal, it’s only there to balance out the overall seedy sleaziness of the stories and characters depicted: of double crosses and femme fatales; of compromised values and the dark underbelly of society; of the cover mystery that hides a deeper, darker conspiracy. This, unfortunately, does not even cross the minds of the filmmakers behind Gangster Squad, a film too slick and stylized for its own good, a film so cartoonish and over the top that it makes Who Framed Roger Rabbit—a legitimate film noir in and of itself—look like L.A. Confidential.
There is way too much polish and sheen and nowhere near the amount of grimy sleaziness that’s required for this kind of film.
Set in L.A. in 1949, the film follows Sgt John O”Mara (Josh Brolin) as he’s tasked by Chief Parker (an even more unintelligible Nick Nolte) to set up an off-the-books task force to crack down on Mickey Cohen’s rackets. He recruits Sgt Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), a colleague who is seeing Mickey’s love interest Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) on the side and Officers Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) along with his protégé Navidad Ramirez and Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi). If it feels like they don’t seem to have much of a personality, it’s because outside of what they bring to the team—knife thrower, sharp shooter, sharp shooter in training, tech guy—there isn’t that much about them for the duration of the entire film.
The big, massive problem with this film is that while it may have a great cast assembled and all the modern resources of a Hollywood studio today—Warner Bros, no less, the studio synonymous with film noir and gangster pictures—no one involved in the writing, producing or directing seems to understand just what a film noir is. Sure there is corruption, but aside from one judge and a couple of officers from Burbank—a running joke that never really works—the good guys are the good guys and the bad guys are clearly the bad guys, especially Sean Penn who seems to have based his portrayal of Mickey Cohen, as well as the make-up, on Al Pacino in Dick Tracy.
The big, massive problem with this film is that while it may have a great cast assembled and all the modern resources of a Hollywood studio today—Warner Bros, no less, the studio synonymous with film noir and gangster pictures—no one involved in the writing, producing or directing seems to understand just what a film noir is.
There is glamour, but it is an excessive amount of stylized glamour. There is way too much polish and sheen and nowhere near the amount of grimy sleaziness that’s required for this kind of film. Lines like “This isn’t an invasion, it’s enemy occupation” don’t have the same hardboiled poetry that “The proof had his throat slit” or “You’re like Santa Claus with that list, Bud, except everyone on it’s been naughty” deliver. And when you throw in super slow-motion explosions from gun fights and CG camera swoops during car chase shootouts, you immediately betray the down and dirty aesthetic of the type of film you are making. The takedown of the El Dorado Wire is the only truly effective scene within the film.
Aside from the previously mentioned sequence, Gangster Squad is a waste of time. It is too slick and polished and too morally simplistic to be considered in the same breath as great noirs like The Maltese Falcon, The Killing, Pick-Up on South Street, Chinatown, L.A. Confidential and even Who Framed Roger Rabbit. You’d be better off watching one of the previously mentioned films than wasting your time with this.