This coming Friday (11th January 2013) sees the release in both the US and the UK of a major motion picture based on the fictional exploits of an unofficial police squad in 1940's Los Angeles. Their brief being to smash the criminal empire built by East Coast gangster Mickey Cohen, who reins supreme in Los Angeles, by practically any means neccessary, even if it means breaking the law.
The set up sounds promising. The film opens with the tag line 'Inspired by true events'. Then when you see the cast list, you're certain this baby can't fail, but you'd be wrong. Dead wrong. The players include hot A-list actors Sean Penn, who plays Mickey Cohen (actually a real life gangster who worked alongside 'Bugsy' Seigel), Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and the ever reliable Nick Nolte.
So what did go wrong?!!! On paper it sounds surefire and when I saw the original trailer last August it came across as a bright, exciting, colourful, violent 'gangster' ride along the lines of the 1997 hit, 'LA Confidential'. Straight to the point, the blame lies with the substandard script. Sure it looks good and you do feel as though you are in Hollywood circa 1949, however even these high calibre actors cannot save this film from drowning in a sea of scenes that look better placed on a network TV show. I found logic was thrown out of the window very early on. Even Sean Penn (who is one of my favourite movie actors) seems to be hamming it up as the villian of the piece. Another A-lister, ever rising star Ryan Gosling, who plays one of the 'gangster squad' going after Cohen, is completely miscast. Instead of believing him as a cop, he just looks like a pretty boy in a suit constantly playing with his cigarette lighter while wooing Penn's gangster's moll, played by Emma Stone. I found this plot line both predictable and boring. Josh Brolin plays the leader of the squad and the script even has his pregnant wife helping him pick his team!!! The squad also include an African American (played by Anthony Mackie from 'The Hurt Locker') and a Hispanic (played by Michael Pena from the recent cop drama 'End Of Watch). Though I loved seeing them on screen, my overall feeling was their inclusion would not have happened in real life 1940's LA police team. This felt more as a nod to modern movie audiences. But I guess the bottom line is.....it's only a movie.
On the plus side the film does deliver some strong shoot em up set pieces. Speaking of which I should point out that the original trailer included an explosive scene showing 4 gangsters standing directly behind a giant movie screen, firing their machine guns right through it onto a crowded audience. This stunning image stayed in my mind for quite some time. However real life events would mean this sequence would never reach the finished film. The sad events of August 2012 when a madman went on a shooting rampage in a cinema in Aurora, Colarado during a screening of 'The Dark Knight Rises' meant that Warner Brothers immediately postponed the film's September 2012 release and ordered this scene to be removed and new scenes be written and filmed.
Overall, I found 'Gangster Squad' to be a missed opportunity of what could have been an excellent crime drama.