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:: Gangster Squad

Whenever you hear that the editors have taken to a film in a bid to appease the censors and make it ‘okay’ for audiences to watch you know the film is likely to look like a mess. ‘Taken 2’ was a perfect example last year and now the same thing has happened to ‘Gangster Squad’. Firstly the filmmakers had to change a major scene in the film because of the cinema massacre in the States and then it feels like the editor savaged it again in a bid to try and please the shifting belief on guns in the United States…a big problem considering a large chunk of ‘Gangster Squad’ is set in a time when gun culture was celebrated. The result is a film that doesn’t seem to know whether it wants to be as aggressive as ‘The Departed’ or comical like ‘Dick Tracy’.

Based on a novel by Paul Lieberman ‘Gangster Squad’ is set in Los Angeles in 1949 and finds former boxer turned gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) carving a name for himself by cutting down anyone who gets in his way. With Cohen and his cronies virtually ridding Los Angeles of any other gangsters officials such as Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) begin to realise that if something isn’t done soon than Cohen will soon ‘own’ the City of Angels. The fact that Cohen also has many Police Officers on his payroll means that Parker now has to technically go outside of the law and put together a secret hit squad to get rid of Cohen. He places trusted hard-working cop Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) in charge of the squad. And while O’Mara is eager to take down Cohen his heavily pregnant wife, Connie (Mireill Enos) is not so pleased that her husband is going to war with such a dangerous man.

In the end Connie relents and decides to help her husband pick a group of men that will not only protect O’Mara but also be unapproachable to Cohen. Together she and O’Mara pick tech-savvy Officer Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), the determined Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) and a relic from the old West Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick).

The posse is then completed when Kennard’s partner and protégé Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and the reluctant Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) decide they also want to be part of the action. While the group seem to have the odds stacked up against them their mission is further clouded by the fact that Wooters is having a relationship with Cohen’s girlfriend, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone).

Director, Ruben Flesischer really is behind the eight-ball with ‘Gangster Squad’. At times his style of filming action works, although it is easy to see that he has been influenced by watching the work of Guy Ritchie, but he is let down by a script that delivers some truly awful lines and an editor that seems intent on sabotaging the film with some edits so corny that people during screenings have broken out into laughter.

The story behind ‘Gangster Squad’ could have made a truly sensational film… especially if someone like Martin Scorsese had taken over the reins as director, but in order for the story to have worked this movie needed to be a lot more aggressive and violent. Mickey Cohen was not a nice man and the version here seems tame when compared to the real life stories. Likewise with the guys in the hit squad, they are portrayed as ‘fluffy teddy bears’ when they are really a bunch of ruthless guys who are willing to do anything to bring down Cohen.

The only actor who really gets anything to work with in ‘Gangster Squad’ is Sean Penn. He relishes getting to play Cohen but the rest of the cast suffer as a result of the poor script. Josh Brolin still seems like he is playing Tommy Lee Jones’ son while Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling are well and truly below par. Good to see a fairly strong character for Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton. He does a solid job in a supporting role. ‘Gangster Squad’ could have been one of the films of the year but sadly an inept screenwriter and editor drag it right down amongst the other average films.