O’Mara recruits a vigilante ensemble of other tough, uncompromising cops, who will stop at nothing to bring peace and justice to the city.
If you think you’ve heard this before, you have – the set-up is almost identical to gangster movies like The Untouchables and even Dick Tracy. Brolin’s O’Mara is a direct steal from Nick Nolte’s tough, uncompromising cop in Mulholland Falls, which is one of the many, better, gangster movies that “inform” Gangster Squad.
As if to emphasise this link, Nolte himself appears a few times as the tough, uncompromising chief of police, using a voice so gravelly that he sounds like he’s choking.
Sean Penn is convincing as Cohen, the tough, uncompromising gang boss who wants to rule Los Angeles. His mean face is enhanced by a prosthetic broken nose, and although his gravelly diction is not on par with Nolte’s, he still sounds like he’s swallowing a bowl of driveway. He speaks only in rhetorical devices: “A cop that’s not for sale is like a dog that’s got rabies – you just gotta put em down.”
With all these tough, uncompromising types around, Ryan Gosling’s character Jerry Wooters – a tough, somewhat compromised cop – is almost a relief.
Gosling expands his dramatic range in this movie, showing that he’s now able to express at least two or three different emotions, which is at least one more than Brolin is allowed.
And he looks good in a double-breasted suit, which is some sort of an achievement.
Unfortunately, the subplot he’s given is preposterous. Wooters is having a long-term affair with the kingpin’s moll (played by Emma Stone, channelling Jessica Rabbit) and we’re expected to believe that Cohen – a man who has his enemies torn in half and eaten by coyotes – has overlooked the fact that his girlfriend is enjoying regular breakfast dates with a policeman.
To be honest, this is a celebrity dress-up film, and director Reuben Fleischer vividly indulges style over substance. It looks perfect: an opportunity to fill the studio lot with Packards and Studebakers, and for the wardrobe department to break out the three-piece suits, spats and fedoras.
Indeed, natty hats are such a key feature of this film that some characters keep theirs on at all times, even when indoors in their own home. Prolonged shoot-outs with machine guns are not enough to dislodge the gangbusters’ headgear, and O’Mara even keeps his hat on when he’s blown across the street by a car bomb.
But it seems that so much has been spent on wardrobe and other details that the producers of Gangster Squad had to economise on the script.
The story has almost no dramatic tension – it seems little more than a schedule to carry the main characters between gun fights, which are presented in the style of MTV videos choreographed to period music pieces: wild free jazz in one shoot-out scene, Copacabana swing in another.
Gangster Squad’s frequent borrowing from other gangster movies – from Chinatown to Scarface to The Godfather – might be intended as homage, but they end up as little more than window dressing in this fairly average, if stylish, vigilante tale.