A Manly Film About Manly Men
It doesn’t get any manlier than this: no plot, snappy dialogue, Robert Patrick’s moustache, big guns, devoted wives, slow motion shootouts, and gallons of blood. Yeah, it’s pretty awesome, but it would also be quite forgettable, were it not for the wonderful production design which makes the film look like it popped right out of a period comic book, and the fast-paced script which makes it feel like one.
Sean Penn is a slightly-less-fictionalized-than-you-might-think version of egomaniacally insane Los Angeles gangster Mickey Cohen, whose systematic takeover of the city is compared, by Nick Nolte’s police chief, to an enemy occupation. The only men brave enough to mount an insurgency against Mickey’s reign of terror are a team of good cops, led by Josh Brolin, WWII veteran who can’t stand having won the war, only to find his city under siege. Brolin’s team, the titular Gangster Squad, includes Ryan Gosling as the hot guy the girls like, Giovanni Ribisi as ‘the smart guy’, Anthony Mackie as ‘the black guy’, Robert Patrick as the aged gunslinger whose hand might just be even faster than the legend, and Michael Pena as his parter/apprentice. All of them get their moments to shine, both in between-mission antics, and in the myriad action scenes, and all of them reach Han Solo levels of cool. Some are more thinly written than others, but they combine to form a strong, likable ensemble.
Directed by Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer, Gangster Squad certainly has its priorities straight: Men and style are tied for first, action second, dialogue third, ladies last. There are really only two noteworthy female characters: Mireille Enos, as Josh Brolin’s devoted but sassy and outspoken wife, and Emma Stone as Grace, Ryan Gosling’s main squeeze, who just so happens to already be Mickey Cohen’s current muse. While they play important roles in the film, they are absolutely secondary to the manly manliness of the rest of the movie, and that’s just fine with us.
Far more important than boring girls, so to speak, are well-edited gunfights set to period music, complete with impossible camera movements, CGI blood spatters, sweet one-liners, and manly displays of righteous heroism.
In case the point was not fully understood, this is not L.A. Confidential, and it’s not L.A. Noire, despite the identical font on the logo. It’s more like The Untouchables meets The Wild Bunch, with the sensibilities of Dick Tracy and The Expendables. Sean Penn is a total ham, devilishly delicious as Mickey Cohen, who his far less of an ex-boxer than his real-life counterpart, and his aspirations of immortality, combined with his ruthless nature, make it easy to justify the admittedly fantastic premise.
Gangster Squad is a highly enjoyable crowd-pleaser, armed with masculinity and dual Tommy Guns, and while it won’t be winning any awards, it won’t make you grow introspective, and it won’t win any awards for historical accuracy (in fact, quite the opposite may certainly happen), it’s not supposed to. It is, however, supposed to be awesome, in in that, it is clearly successful.
P.S. The secret to Ryan Gosling’s acting is that he is entirely stoic for the entire film, except for one or two scenes when he emotes like every other actor does all the time. It’s like, conservation of acting, or something along those lines. When you spend the whole movie not acting, and then you finally DO act, it’s even more dramatic. Good for him!
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