Everyone wears a badge,” growls Sgt John O’Mara (Brolin). He's right – my favourite badge from my collection says “No Likey, No Lighty”, but I don’t think this would qualify me to be part of the this Gangster Squad. O’Mara assembles this violent group to take on brutal gangster Mickey Cohen (Penn), who plans to run all criminal activity along the West coast of 1940s America. O’Mara and his team are given permission by Chief Parker (Nolte), who can’t arrest the gangsters using regular means due to mass corruption, to wage “guerilla warfare” on Cohen – and that is just what they do as they try to drive the former Mr Madonna out of LA.
With introductions to our main players out of the way, the film gets nicely into its rhythm as the gang hits each of Cohen’s facilities in turn, with some solid action and funny exchanges between the main cast. Brolin swans around with the look of someone with a painful blister, Gosling is his usual charming self. And while the rest of the team are all decent, as with many an ensemble piece, none of the support characters is really given enough screen time to have any real depth. Penn’s turn as the boxer-turned-gangster is very close to being a caricature of every gangster film ever, and I thought he lacked in any real menace despite the brutal nature of his character. Stone was also tragically underused, but she was great when on-screen, especially her scenes with Gosling.
Zombieland helmer Fleisher is in charge of things and he brings his violent and stylish manner to the action here. There is enough slow-motion to make Zack Snyder aroused and bullets leave gaping red holes in their victims while the scenery is shredded. For all the enjoyment I took from the action, once the focus is shifted to the characters and dialogue, Gangster Squad shows that it doesn’t actually have anything else to offer but makes the mistake of trying to. As our gangster-bashing gang begins to talk of its inability to return to normal life after punching Germans for five years, you realise that you don’t actually want there to be any emotional depth to the film and that the first half was much more enjoyable with its gunfights and one-liners. Once things try to get deeper and darker, the change in tone does not feel natural and causes the film to lose its fun factor. It probably could have done with trimming 15 minutes or so from the second half, too.
This is a really average film that is saved from being completely forgettable by some solid action, some amusing moments (not sure they were all intentional though) and some typically excellent Stone/Gosling action. Penn tries to ruin the fun by being rubbish while the attempts at making the story darker only succeed in making the first half of the film look better. Zack Snyder will bloody love it, though.
EXTRAS ★★★★ An audio commentary with director Fleischer; the documentary Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen (46:44), all about the real-life mobster played by Penn in the film; seven deleted scenes (12:20); The Gangland Files, which when turned on sees Stone, Gosling, Brolin and otehr cast members pop up during the film with anecdotes, historical trivia and more; 15 behind-the-scenes Focus Points: The Set-Up (46:28); the featurette Then & Now Locations (8:03); and the featurette Tough Guys With Style (4:54).