Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad no doubt blew the opportunity to be a special crime-drama and instead it stumbles trying to emulate other gangster movies in the past. Still, I couldn’t help but enjoy the movie especially the performances from Brolin, Gosling, Robert Patrick and Sean Penn that it makes for a worthwhile viewing even with its flaws.
Genre(s): Crime, Drama
Warner Bros. | R – 113 min. – $35.99 | April 23, 2013
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Writer(s): Will Beall (written by)
Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena
Theatrical Release Date: January 11, 2013
Features: Commentary, Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, UltraViolet Digital Copy, DVD Copy
Number of Discs: 2
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Portuguese (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: 31.4 GB
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 3.75/5
The crime-thriller Gangster Squad heavily borrows from other, often better, movies that have come before from The Untouchables to, in some ways, White Heat. It’s a mishmash of the gangster genre put together with more than a dose of comedy to stir the pot for viewers which will put somebody on one side or the other.
The story is set in 1949 Los Angeles, a town ruled by the volatile and ruthless Mickey Cohen (SEAN PENN), an ex champion boxer who has his hands in any and every dirty, illegal action in town from gambling and prostitution to murder. He also has people on the police force and judge’s offices to keep him and his gang out of trouble and those in his crew who do screw up, he takes care of them in malevolent ways.
When the movie opens, honest and tough-as-nails cop Sgt. John O’Mara (JOSH BROLIN) had recently returned from serving during World War 2 hoping to set up a great life in L.A. with his pregnant wife (MIREILLE ENOS). However, the L.A. he had left is no longer the same and the corruption on the streets are disgusting and places him in harm’s way even when attempting to do good.
One day Chief of Police Parker (NICK NOLTE) recruits O’Mara to form a squad to work outside the law to rid the city of Cohen’s misdeeds so that he gets the message and moves out of town. O’Mara of course agrees much to the displeasure of his wife, although knowing O’Mara won’t give up, she helps him recruit members of his team, those who are already not exactly by the book but who are also not on Cohen’s payroll. This “gangster squad” includes: Officers Max Kennard (ROBERT PATRICK), his partner Navidad Ramirez (MICHAEL PENA), genius Conwell Keeler (GIOVANI RIBISI), Coleman Harris (ANTHONY MACKIE) and eventually Sgt. Jerry Wooters (*snicker*) (RYAN GOSLING) who signs up after some resistance.
The film does go on a side story as Wooters (*snicker*) becomes infatuated for a woman named Grace Faraday (EMMA STONE), who happens to be Cohen’s etiquette coach. Of course, being a debonair man, he uses smooth talk to get her into bed, and of course it actually works. But their relationship must be on the DL (or whatever term they had in the ‘40s) because if Cohen finds out, Wooters (*snicker*) is dead.
Now with the Gangster Squad complete, O’Mara and his men get going by first striking one of Cohen’s gambling houses in Burbank only to have it result in utter failure when they run into armed guards on the floor and have to run for their lives resulting in O’Mara and Harris getting nabbed, but his men manage to help the pair escape, albeit sheepishly and in not all coordinated fashion.
Soon enough, the Squad manages to make inroads going after Cohen’s profitable venues as well as planting bugs in his home to keep tabs on his comings and goings including drug shipments coming in to town and going after and destroying it. However, Cohen isn’t an idiot and it’s not long before he finds out who they are where things get personal.
Gangster Squad was directed by Ruben Fleischer best known for his cult classic, Zombieland which recently got a series from Amazon on Demand as well as the dark comedy, 30 Minutes or Less. So it should come to no surprise that this crime drama has its fair share of comedic moments which, from my reading, what many viewers disliked. For me, and although it doesn’t nearly capture the reality of the time period and more a parody of it, I actually kind of enjoyed some of the quirky moments.
One of the other complaints is that Fleischer, and in turn screenwriter Will Beall’s screenplay (based on Paul Lieberman’s book), is that it almost blatantly steals from other gangster movies of the past and in the case of the end scene, the film certain was heavily influenced by The Untouchables to the point that it admittedly was robbery.
Casting wise, Josh Brolin in the lead was good; Ryan Gosling was his normal self (i.e. thinking he’s hot sh*t); Emma Stone is solid in the primary female role and as in her other movies looks gorgeous (superficial I know); and Sean Penn, as always, makes for a fine bad guy, although his make-up (at least I think it was make-up) seemed to be done for a Dick Tracy movie… Nobody here really stands out but I felt they filled out their roles well enough and make up for some of the cheesy dialogue.
Another highlight for the movie is Steve Jablosky’s retro score brining the cinematic version of the 1940s to life. Jablosky, known mostly for this work on Michael Bay’s films like the Transformers franchise and The Island (which was had great pieces well worth buying), here gives different textures and rhythms which even on their own are cool to listen to.
However, despite all of the film’s problems from its “homage” to gangster films of yesteryear, I actually kind of enjoyed Gangster Squad. No, it’s not nearly perfect and certainly Fleischer and company blew a great opportunity to make something special, even memorable, but if you don’t take the film too seriously, there’s a fun time to be had.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.75/5
This release comes with a glossy slip cover. Inside is a retail DVD Copy (with one feature), plus a download code for the UltraViolet Digital Copy.
The Gangland Files is a picture-in-picture feature where – with an intro from actors Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie and Robert Patrick – show some trivia about the era and the real people behind the movie and on gangsters in general. There’s also some behind-the-scenes footage and interviews, but those are few and far between… ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Focus Points: The Set-Up (46:28; HD) contains a series of 15 featurettes, some of which were shown in “The Gangland Files” PiP. These cover a variety of topics from the gangsters in Los Angeles, behind-the-scenes footage, cast and crew interviews as they explain the roles and plot, etc. With the “Play All” option, you get a good sense of the production and real life story, and archive/new interviews with the real people, making for a fine documentary. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Then and Now Locations (8:03; HD) – This featurette allows you to see vintage photos of the locations where the story takes place, along with images of those places today. They are also shown during “The Gangland Files” PiP. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Audio Commentary – Director Ruben Fleischer sits down for a lively and informative commentary going over various topics on directing styles and giving praise to the cast.
Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen (46:44; SD) is a lengthy documentary, narrated by William Devane, on the 1940s gangster made for television showing where Cohen came from, his influence during the period and his celebrity status. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Tough Guys with Style (4:54; HD) – Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling, along with the rest of the cast, take us into the gritty underbelly of Los Angeles circa 1949. This featurette is more as an advertisement for the movie than giving great insight into making the movie…
Deleted Scenes (12:20; HD) – Seven scenes which didn’t make the grade are included here with a short introduction by Fleischer who doesn’t explain in detail why they were cut or trimmed. ** Blu-ray Exclusive **
Preview – The Great Gatsby
VIDEO – 4.5/5
Gangster Squad shoots onto Blu-ray presented in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio and a solid 1080p high-definition transfer. The picture here is what one would expect from a new release: shiny with no signs of artifacting or pixilation. The black levels are austere while the video features fine detail from both close-ups and background objects. The color arrangement keeps in tune with the era with a more bronze palette outside of a few scenes such as those at the nightclub which has some starker coloring on the dresses.
AUDIO – 5.0/5
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track offered here is amazing with loud and expansive lossless audio during the action sequences which contains gunfire. Also impressive is Steve Jablonsky’s fantastic score which nicely envelops the room. The center channel is utilized for the center action from dialogue levels which are crisp and clear while the rear speakers contain the ambient elements and side action.
OVERALL – 4.0/5
Overall, Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad no doubt blew the opportunity to be a special crime-drama and instead it stumbles trying to emulate other gangster movies in the past. Still, I couldn’t help but enjoy the movie especially the performances from Brolin, Gosling, Robert Patrick and Sean Penn that it makes for a worthwhile viewing even with its flaws. The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack offers excellent audio/video transfers and for a Warner release, there’s a good amount of features.