Pros: Good cast.
Cons: So derivative, it makes you just wish you were watching the originals.
(This review originally appeared on Epinions.com)
Reuben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad is one of the most obviously derivative movies in recent memory. It rips off Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables with a few elements of LA Confidential and Chinatown thrown in for good measure. Fleischer was obviously thinking of the axiom: If you’re going to steal, steal from quality sources. This movie however is proof that this doesn’t always work.
In the classic De Palma film, Eliot Ness set out to take down Al Capone as mandated by his bosses at the Treasury Department. To do so, he was instructed by a veteran Chicago cop that he would have to throw the rule book out the window. He followed this advice and began being a serious pain in the you know what to Capone. At one point, we see Capone take a Louisville slugger to the head of an associate who messed up.
In Gangster Squad, idealistic LA cop John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is assigned by Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to go outside the law to take down gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). To do so, O’Mara recruits a squad of fellow cops to assist in his war against Cohen. He soon starts being a pain in the you know what to the gangster. At one point, Cohen brutally slaughters an associate with a power drill.
So basically, Gangster Squad rips off the earlier film in most regards, It adds in a little unsanctioned romance, switches the time from the 30s to the 40s, the locale from Chicago to LA and the lead villain from Capone to Cohen. Other than that it’s an inferior rehash.
The Untouchabes had some fantastic direction, a great script by David Mamet and a truly excellent cast (Costner, Connery and De Niro). Gangster Squad has a very good cast (Brolin, Penn, Nolte, Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone). But lacks in the area of direction and script.
Say what you will about De Palma as a director. But you can’t deny the man brings style to what he does. Flesicher doesn’t seem to be able to do that. His approach is suited for comedy as Zombieland proves. But crime noir may not be his forte.
The script meanwhile, in addition to being derivative, gives us characters. But doesn’t take much time to develop them. Cohen is depcited as an over the top psycho to rival Tony Montana. O’Mara is a family man who must go above and beyond to accomplish his mission. Ryan Gosling’s Jerry Wooters is the maverick of sorts. Emma Stone as Grace Faraday is the typical woman in pictures of this type. Yeah, the bulk of the people here are pretty two-dimensional.
I’ve seen some reviews that complain about the historical inaccuracies in Gangster Squad. Yeah it does play fast and loose with history. The Untouchables did too (Both Capone and Cohen went down thanks to the IRS). One particular review in Salon complained that it glamorizes the LAPD at a time when it should not have been glamorized. I won’t get into that. But I will say that LA Confidential is more accurate in that regard even if it is totally fiction.
Gangster Squad does offer some mild entertainment. However, it’s not really worth going out of your way for. If you’re looking for a cops and gangsters thriller of this type, just stick with The Untouchables.