Gangster Squad is slick but superficial

With Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña and Robert Patrick. Directed by Ruben Fleischer.

 Gangster Squad is a beautifully made and presented film, offering audiences a memorable recreation of Los Angeles during the 1940’s. The version of that great city presented here is highly stylised and probably owes more to the popular image of the era, embedded in our collective consciousness through the countless preceding gangster movies from which Gangster Squad liberally borrows. The technical craftsmanship extends to the action sequences and the film is at its strongest when it keeps a light touch and emphasises entertainment.

It’s when the film slows down that the cracks begin to show. The plot and characters are thinly written and underdeveloped. Sean Penn’s portrayal of mob boss Mickey Cohen borders on being a parody of this kind of role. Penn is entertaining throughout, but his character mirrors the film’s larger problems in finding an even and consistent tone between serious film noire and cartoonish action pastiche. The high quantity of graphic violence is also likely to make the viewer uneasy when juxtaposed with the film’s generally light approach to the genre. A more thoughtful approach would have made the violence at least seem more justified.

The cast is composed of uniformly excellent actors. They all do their best to make their two-dimensional characters memorable and compelling and largely succeed in making us care enough to cheer for the good guys. Sadly, the romantic sub-plot falls flat due to the lack of chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, making this part of the story one of the film’s weakest links.

Gangster Squad offers slick and superficial entertainment, but it doesn’t come close to classics of the genre like The Godfather and The Untouchables. While it offers some enjoyment, it won’t have the lasting impact of its more worthy predecessors.

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