Classic gangsters loved a good embarrassment of riches. Nice cars, fancy suits, expensive arm candy – the sky was the limit on how they could show off their wealth and power.
For a movie like "Gangster Squad" – which takes place amidst the glitz and glamour (and dirty world of organized crime) of late '40s Los Angeles – showing off is fine. In fact, it's pretty much a prerequisite. But, when the swanky style of the era meets the stylized swank of the movie's own excesses, things get out of hand.
"Gangster Squad" is the semi-true story of a group of LAPD officers tasked with taking down the city's most notorious crime boss, Mickey Cohen (played with smarmy zeal by Sean Penn). The secret band of righteous outlaws, led by Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) and backed by a diversely skilled ensemble (played by Ryan Gosling, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena), lay a promising foundation for the film despite its rote crime drama set-up. Unfortunately, their promise is smothered by their one-dimensional characters and unembellished screentime that only sets them up as a band of cliched white knights.
Nearly everything else about "Gangster Squad" is awash in what can best be described as "gangster camp." Everything about Cohen's high-class living is gratuitously ostentatious, from his fortified mansion and posh nightlife to his ludicrously mismatched partnership with etiquette coach Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). Conversely, the down-and-dirty aspects of his ill-gotten lifestyle – the clandestine business meetings set in deviously noir locales, the cadre of goons armed with tommy guns tooling around L.A. in slick dark cars – wholly embrace the devil-may-care arrogance of a cartoonishly repugnant kingpin soaring too close to the sun.
The only thing more eyeroll-inducing than these prototypical ploys is "Gangster Squad"'s score. Its pensive, deep monotones don't flesh out until the near-climax, leaving it to plaintively drone over the majority of the film and attempt to create situational gravity too soon and too often. Don't confuse this with a slight against the soundtrack, however. Perhaps the best thing in the movie, "Gangster Squad"'s song selection was easily the most genuine thing the film accessed to create its period ambience.
Despite the paragraphs of criticism, "Gangster Squad" really isn't that bad of a movie, and it has its able ensemble cast to thank for that. They had to fight through a transparent plot and uninspired dialogue to get there, but they managed to wring as much entertainment value as possible out of it – even as the action built to a slo-mo showdown of a climax that teetered on the edge of ridiculous.
In the end, "Gangster Squad" couldn't manage to reconcile the "true story" seriousness with its urge to indulge itself in the cinematic treasure trove that comes with portraying '40s and '50s-era grandeur. It could have been a great movie, but instead it's just the film equivalent of a mid-level mob enforcer.
No Talkbacks for this article.
Post your comment/review now
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.
Recent Articles & Blogs by Renee Lorenz
Published Jan. 3, 2013
It feels like not a week goes by without someone posting something about how Facebook's invading everyone's privacy, spying on your browser history, etc., ad nauseum. (These posts are usually made on Facebook, by the way.) I understand the generic concern over the Orwellian slippery slope, but it doesn't take me too long to re-assess and arrive back at my old conclusion: Who cares?
Published Dec. 31, 2012
Although outsiders may not see Milwaukee as a hotbed for the performing arts, locals know there's plenty of talent to go around. And, there are numerous venues across the city that proudly show off area actors, dancers and musicians. But, despite the wide array of opportunities available, Katie Rhyme and Karen Zakrzewski still felt something important was missing.
Published Dec. 25, 2012
Merry Christmas, "Les Miz" lovers - I'm about to hate all over your musical.
Published Dec. 25, 2012
Well, it took director Quentin Tarantino 20 years, but he finally got his Western ... kinda. Although it's fair to say he's been preparing his entire career with his raucously bloody shoot-'em-ups, Tarantino's time warming up has been well spent if "Django Unchained" is the final result
Published Dec. 21, 2012
Unlike most middle-aged men, Judd Apatow can afford a whole garage of Camaros and Mustangs. So, it makes sense that his mid-life crisis would manifest not with a youthful car buy, but by splurging on the production of a new movie.
Published Dec. 19, 2012
They say time flies when you're having fun. I don't know who "they" are (probably those terrifyingly upbeat "glass half full" people), but they nailed it. My 2012 is a blur of exciting times and memorable moments, most of which my lawyers have advised me not to discuss in detail. There's still plenty to talk about, though, and I've shared the highlights below.
Published Dec. 18, 2012
Well, another year of movies is (almost) in the books. Full of many memorable ups and seared-in-my-brain-forever downs, here's my take on the best (and worst) of 2012.
Published Dec. 14, 2012
Eleven years after "Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring" introduced audiences to the majesty of director Peter Jackson's Middle-earth, "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" makes a triumphant return to the mythical land with a new trilogy based on J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Hobbit."
Published Dec. 12, 2012
After being tasked with putting together an actual wish list, I'm legitimately afraid of the death glare I'll get if I hand over my ultra-practical, completely un-whimsical list of stuff I want. So, I'm posting it here.
Published Dec. 11, 2012
Ferrets. A singing geriatric in an eye patch. Disturbingly upbeat wound care. These topics are the most recent added to the popular Found Footage Festival, which returns Dec. 19 with its sixth volume of so-bad-they're-good clips.