Movie Review: Gangster Squad
This is our first Review at Reel Watchers. In the days to come we will be reviewing the movies that will be making an appearance at the Oscars next month.
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The acting in Gangster Squad was not bad, but it also wasn’t spectacular. The stars, Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Ryan Gosling were all very good, but I feel like this film had many missed opportunities. Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen was very understandably static, but unfortunately so was just about everyone. There wasn’t catharsis or life change in any of the characters. Mickey is bad, the Gangster Squad wants to stop him. Everyone is the same at the end of the movie as they were at the beginning.
Ryan Gosling made an acting choice that I was initially against, but okay with by the end. He spoke out of his higher register and with a softer voice. It was interesting, but the issue is that it removed a lot of tonal variety in his speech. This, again, made him feel more static and less dynamic. But Gosling is a gutsy actor. The way he played the driver in “Drive” was awkward and had a strange withdrawn voice and personality. But it worked perfectly in drive. The pauses, the looks, and awkward conversations were just what Drive called for. It just didn’t work well in Gangster Squad.
I think the script is what I had the problem with when watching the movie. It just felt rushed. The pacing was all off for this type of movie. It need two more things: more character development and more struggle. It could have easily have been 20-30 minutes longer to allow time for both.
Characters were mostly static (as I mentioned before) and it would only take a few extra minutes of conversation to really develop some of the characters. Ask why. Why does Mickey really run his syndicate the way he does? Why does Gosling’s character resonate so well with Brolin’s attack of the Cohen gang? Why does Emma Stone’s character stay with Mickey for so long? These are (at best) merely implied in the movie and never developed.
What it needed was that internal struggle. There was plenty of external conflict, i.e. Mickey Cohen ruling Los Angeles through drugs, money, violence, and power, but the most internal conflict that the three main characters experienced was Brolin feeling sorry for leaving his pregnant wife at home time and time again. The person who most developed through internal struggle was honestly Giovanni Ribisi. He answered that all important “why” for himself.
This is the third feature film for Ruben Fleischer, his first two were Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less. Gangster Squad was a huge step for Fleischer. Zombieland was a great movie that was clever and very funny. 30 Minutes or Less was funny, but not really a great movie. Gangster Squad is Fleischer’s first step away from the funny violent movie and a good showcase for his abilities.
He handled the framing of the story very well and had a nice mix of angles and shots. I think that Fleischer excels in the fast paced combat parts of the film… and with shots like the upward facing shot of Gosling slaying the gangster on the ground provided a very interesting dynamic.
I can’t blame Fleischer for the character development, because he only has the script to work with. He got what was available for his actors and trusted their decisions as veterans of their craft.
The movie was heavily stylized with textures and colors and I think that it worked. The feel was consistent and authentic. There were times that the visuals on screen overshadowed the story.
My style decision was the use of the slow motion. Some movies (300) use slow motion far too much, but in Gangster Squad it was used perfectly. e.g. The slow motion wasn’t used primarily in combat, but in movement. When Ryan Gosling’s character wanted to kill Cohen who was at dinner, he came barging through the door towards their table. The slow motion close up of Gosling’s face almost substituted as character development! It forced you to read his face and feel his anger. Fantastic.
Final Grade: 78/100 (C+)
Overall a slightly above average movie. Sadly, forgettable because it could have been great if the writing and pacing were at par.