By not taking itself too seriously Gangster Squad manages to be its best and worst enemy. In many ways it feels refreshing to watch a period gangster film with a simple premise and a twinkle in its eye but it’s also hard to get over the sense that its appeal to the median viewer forces it to turn on the handbrake.
Sean Penn takes centre stage amongst an impressive ensemble cast, playing Mickey Cohen, a vicious Mafia man trying to control post-war Los Angeles. Penn plays it up like a villain from a superhero movie and although I generally enjoyed his performance, it can often feel like it’s a bit too much. Josh Brolin plays Sgt. John O’Mara, a strong minded cop willing to take the necessary steps to break Cohen’s stranglehold across the city, assembling a ‘gangster squad’ of police who find themselves behaving like gangsters to take down the gangsters. All pretty straightforward, requiring minimal brain power and it all looks pretty stylish.
Ryan Gosling find himself in the squad and like always, he’s a cinematic magnet but despite having a good chunk of screen time, he feels rather underused and the film never finds a real core among its ensemble. Penn’s villain is too wild, whilst Gosling is only allowed to be fleetingly captivating and perhaps Brolin’s ‘good cop’ comes closest. However, by the end of the film it’s still not quite clear what the real point of it all was which doesn’t mean the journey wasn’t enjoyable, only that you get the sense it could have all been a little bit more so.
Gangster Squad is pulpy and littered with splendid moments of action and violence, not least the satisfying and rip-roaring final shooting. From the impressive cast and trailer perhaps I expected something more ambitious but it’s always got its tongue planted within its cheek, occasionally sets pulses racing and at under two hours, it still manages to pass the time with pleasure.
Review by David Rank
Gangster Squad is out on 10th January in the UK and 11th January US. Certificate 15 (UK). Running time 113 mins.
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