Gangster Squad 反黑暴隊 (2013) – USA

Review by: Andrew Chan FCCA AACTA
Review Date: 2nd February 2013
In cinemas around Asia / Australia / USA in January 2013

Directed by: John Brolin,
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone

US Box Office Takings: $40,886,904

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“Gangster Squad” looks great on the glossy poster with Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn pitted head to head and rounding out with the redness of Emma Stone. However, the film feels every bit generic, cliché and makes the biggest mistake possible by regulating the trio, Gosling, Penn and Stone to mere supporting roles. Josh Brolin is a decent lead, but he lacks that interesting character presence of a Gosling or Penn that can glue the audience to the screen. Despite this, a fun time can still be had, as the film overcomes a slow start with plenty of explosive car chases, stylish gun fights and a wonderful 1950’s Los Angeles setting. In fact, “Gangster Squad” can easily be a typical John Woo movie and that’s not necessary a bad thing.

Josh Brolin headlines as Sgt. John O’Mara, the leader of the so-called “Gangster Squad” in the beat to eliminate the underworld all-conquering Mickey Cohen (played by the always impressive Sean Penn). Brolin have the old-fashioned leading man looks, not unlike a younger Pierce Brosnan, but lacks character and flair to captivate the audience attention. Despite the film dedicating most of the screen time to his character, we know nothing of him either than the fact that he has a pregnant wife at home and has some unfinished business with the world and everything. Ryan Gosling is a rising actor, but here is given a next to nothing role as Brolin’s sidekick. Even in his dealing with co-star Emma Stone seems to be riding on their laurels established in “Crazy Stupid Love”. Emma Stone shines in whatever screen time they can afford her. Likewise, Sean Penn is criminally underused, despite being crucial to the plot. The film never allows Penn, an extended screen time to throw away some of his trademark craziness or even overacts to absolute menacing effect, by effectively cutting to another scene, before Penn can captivate the audience.

Perhaps the best reconciling impact moment in the film comes down to the scene when the kid is consoled by Josh Brolin, However, those scenes are far and in between. Therefore, “Gangster Squad” is far better, if you view it as an action film where unlimited bullets fly around like a scene directly from any John Woo’s movie. I am not sure what to make of the allegedly cut out sequences involving gun fights in a Chinese cinema, due to the aftermath of the 2012 Aurora shooting.

All in all, “Gangster Squad” is a beautifully packaged film that possesses some wonderful scenery shots of 1950s Los Angeles, but clearly suffers from an undeveloped script that focuses more on action than characters. Ryan Gosling is terribly miscast and Sean Penn tends to show up in spontaneous and limited moments, while lead actor Josh Brolin is given far too much screen time to waste away. I don’t know about other people, but the 1950s gangster genre and catchy poster, all seemed like false advertising. What we get is an extremely generic action piece that lacks heart and character. We have probably seen this film before somewhere in our lifetime or another, but at its worst, “Gangster Squad” can still somehow entertain, even if it is probably only entertaining crap. (Neo 2013)

I rated it 6.5/10

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