We kick off the new year in style, thanks to Ruben Fleischer’s classy Gangster Squad. Starring Ryan Gosling and Josh Brolin as two 1940s cops waging guerilla warfare on the gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), the Zombieland director is sailing into uncharted waters with this arguably risky third feature.
Following in the footsteps of 2012’s gritty and hard-hitting Lawless, Gangster Squad takes the age old cop vs. criminal confrontation and places it in early-twentieth century America, which ensures an abundance of long coats, hats, cigarettes and Tommy guns. However, as entertaining as it is to revel in the classy Golden Age of Hollywood, it does not quite carry the spark that made the gangster films it is clearly inspired by so great.
Gangster Squad is less the next L.A. Confidential, and more like a love letter to the genre. The film is coated with a sheen of unreality that doesn’t quite sit well with the gangster movies of old. The picture is crisp and the suits are perfect, and 1949 Los Angeles seems far too clean for a town apparently rife with corruption, scandal and gang warfare.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, however. The dialogue crackles with life, and the film’s visual flair makes the charismatic Gosling and Brolin very entertaining to watch. Emma Stone’s best sexy slink is enough to make any man giddy.
A particularly impressive hotel lobby shootout between Brolin’s cop and Penn’s gangster is a great way to begin the year. The similarity between that scene and the lobby sequence in The Matrix is not what you would normally expect from a 1940s gangster film, but Gangster Squad does not take itself seriously enough for this to be a negative criticism. In fact, many of the film’s funnier moments are reminscent of Flesicher’s earlier work, the comedies Zombieland and Thirty Minutes or Less. This is clearly the work of a dedicated film fan, and one who is loving every minute of his job.
Gangster Squad has by no means redefined the gangster genre. It is an entertaining action romp that knows not to take itself too seriously. It is unlikely to be something that is revisited or even remembered any time soon, but that does not mean it is without some charm. With some delightful comedic moments intentional or otherwise (Sean Penn’s bizarre Mickey Cohen impression, I’m looking at you) it balances visual flair with cool dialogue to kick of 2013 with a perfectly satisfying bang.