Gangster Squad

gangster squad

Haven’t I seen you in a movie with me before?

As Nick Nolte tells James Brolin they need a squad of cops that will go bust up Mickey Cohen’s operation – I had this thought. I’m watching a script from The Untouchables, and characters from Dick Tracy; the bullets shown in slow-motion – from about 20 different movies.

What I wanted was to think more of movies like L.A. Confidential and Chinatown. We get the neon lights and cool cars, and even the shoeshine boy that has all the info – so why not give us a better script?

The cast sounds great on paper. They don’t sound so great vocally. Sean Penn as Cohen…the voice is just bizarre, as if he would’ve been better suited to play a villain in Sin City. Nick Nolte sounds like he’s still on that bender from the mug shot days (or his character in The Warrior).

Giovanni Ribisi, after that Hunter S. Thompson movie and his bizarre role in Ted, brings that same voice with him.

Michael Pena, Emma Stone, and Bryan Cranston were okay…but it’s Josh Brolin, Robert Patrick, and Ryan Goslin that save this picture and actually make it somewhat entertaining.

In the story, Brolin’s wife goes from being the angry pregnant mom who knows this is dangerous, to hand-picking a great crew to bring down Mickey Cohen. This means you get the old-timer from a western who prefers a pistol over a Tommy gun. There’s the nerd (Ribisi). He can bug houses and rig telephone wires better than anyone. There’s the naïve young kid (Pena), that just wants to join the gang to be close to the old-timer he idolizes. We get the cop that doesn’t want to be there (Gosling), until he falls in love with the thugs dame and sees a boy die right before his very eyes.

I think it’s strange that Quentin Tarantino’s last movie got all the controversy for the violence and shooting, when it was this movie that had the scene cut out after the Batman shooting (the gangsters shoot into a crowded theatre). This movie also has that other controversy that pops up every so often – smoking is made to look cool. Of course, the film has the perfect defense. It’s 1949 in Los Angeles. They wore hats and smoked a lot.

Director Ruben Fleischer did one comedy I enjoyed (30 Minutes or Less, which most critics hated) and another I found overrated (Zombieland, which most critics liked). He nails the time frame. I just question some of his other decisions. Perhaps having Stone smoke a cigarette in a holder or sound more like Betty Davis than…well…the Emma Stone that was having sex-scenes with Goslin in Crazy, Stupid, Love.

There are some humorous moments that work, and at least there were a few scenes that weren’t predictable. I would’ve liked more of Cohen’s lines (he has one rant about cops that can’t be paid off being like rabid dogs; that’s strong), and less of Cohen sounding like a movie villain caricature.

I also have the same problem I had with Zero Dark Thirty. And that is – if you’re doing a movie about a real person, I don’t like a lot of fictionalizing. This movie is about 20% of the real Mickey Cohen story is, tops.

It gets 2 stars out of 5 from me, but I’m guessing most audiences will love it and would give it 4 stars.

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