Gangster Squad Blu-ray Review
With a cast that includes such great actors like Sean Penn, Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling, you might walk into Ruben Fleischer’s GANGSTER SQUAD thinking it was going to be more like Brian De Palma’s classic gangster film, THE UNTOUCHABLES, which could lead to disappointment when it turns out to be more like DICK TRACY. In fact, I’d argue that Fleischer himself wasn’t sure what kind of film he was going to make and the result is an uneven movie that doesn’t live up to expectations. It does offer some enjoyable moments, but it felt as if those moments were in spite of the filmmakers efforts, not because of them.
Set in post-WWII Los Angeles, we follow a tough-as-nails cop John O’Mara, (Josh Brolin) that happens to be one of the few honest, hard working guys on the force. He’s tasked with going after the famed criminal Micky Cohen (Sean Penn), but since Cohen has most of the city on his payroll, O’Mara will have to put down the badge and go after Cohen head on. This sets off a Dirty Dozen type sequence where O’Mara recruits detectives to join his “gangster squad”. Predictably, we get the full gauntlet of clichés, including the cocky ladies man, the old timer, the eager young guy, the knife thrower and the nerdy tech geek. But the biggest cliché of the bunch is Sean Penn’s Micky Cohen, who was mimicking all of the old gangster films he probably watched as a kid. It’s a surprising misstep for Penn, who along with Daniel Day-Lewis, is almost automatic with his Oscar nominated performances. But his portrayal of Cohen is more of a Razzie-worthy performance than anything we’ve seen him in.
If Sean Penn’s performance was the worst, then Ryan Gosling’s portrayal of the alcoholic, smooth talking Jerry Wooters was the highlight of the film and gave a brief glimpse of what could have been. But I’m not so sure that’s a credit to his acting or just his natural charm that shines through no matter what role he’s in. I was excited to see Gosling and Emma Stone team up again, but they lacked the chemistry that was so evident in CRAZY STUPID LOVE. That’s not meant to be an insult to them, it’s more a fault of the director, who just couldn’t get the most out his insanely talented cast. Everyone was either underused or not used properly. It’s tough to blame any of the actors since all of them have proven resumes that speak for themselves.
GANGSTER SQUAD feels like a comic book movie in that it relied heavily on established characters and the actors portraying them and tended to ignore story and character development. It’s a very violent film, but violence in film should make an impact of some sort and even when the violence was trying to be edgy (like when Cohen burns some henchmen in an elevator shaft), it comes off superficial and numb. GANGSTER SQUAD is based on a fascinating true story that’s gritty, shocking and interesting at the same time. I’m not sure why screenwriter Will Beall chose to ignore all of the best parts of the true story in favor of tired movie clichés.
GANGSTER SQUAD is a cliché-ridden, unfocused, bubble-gum movie that thinks it’s a serious crime drama. If you judge a movie by what it’s trying to be, then GANGSTER SQUAD is an epic failure. But if you look at it as a comic book take on the L.A. crime scene in the 50’s, you might at least find it moderately enjoyable.
Video: GANGSTER SQUAD might not live up to expectations as a film, but as far as the Blu-ray quality, it’s impressive.
Audio: GANGSTER SQUAD sounds as good as it looks.
Commentary with Ruben Fleischer: Given the drama around the picture, I expected Fleischer to give a more passionate, interesting commentary. But in truth, this was a complete bore. He didn’t seem like he wanted to be there and the long gaps between comments was off-putting.
The Gangland Files: This is a Picture In Picture feature, which I always enjoy, but pulls from other features on the disc rather than offering anything new. So if you like PiP features, then I would watch this and skip everything else.
Focus Points: The Set-Up (45:37): There are 15 mini-featurettes here that you can watch all at once or individually. Most of them cover a specific actor’s character while others cover a specific aspect of the film. I didn’t see anything in here that blew me away and I’m not usually a fan of a hodgepodge of mini-featurettes.
Deleted Scenes (11:52): We have seven deleted scenes here and no, the infamous theater shootout is not included. There’s an extra scene with Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone if you were hoping for more of them together.
Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen (46:58): I wasn’t aware of a show called “Rogues Gallery”, but it exists and this episode focuses on the real life gangster Mickey Cohen. It’s narrated by William Devane and I found it to be pretty interesting. This might be a case where real life is more fascinating than the movie.
Then and Now Locations (8:03): This is pretty much what it says; a look at Los Angeles now and from the 50’s.
Tough Guys with Style (5:12): I’m not sure why this is separated since it’s not long enough to amount to anything. The cast members talk about the style in the film, but again, there’s not much here.