Director Ruben Fleischer follows up two comedy films: Zombieland and 30 Minutes or Less with Gangster Squad, a cliché-ridden crime drama that borrows from every other title in the genre, while adding almost nothing to the mix, aside from the questionable decision to shoot the film digitally. Gangster Squad isn’t dragged down by its performances or its direction, but the script leaves it dead in the water before it’s even given a fighting chance.
Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is a ruthless crime lord. He’s thirsty for blood, money and power and his rise to the top is simple; kill everyone in your way. He buys cops when needed, but prefers to just eliminate people out of the equation altogether.
Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) comes up with the idea of rounding up some of his finest men and tasking them with the assignment of bringing Cohen down, outside of the books. He gets John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to lead the ragtag band of policemen known as the Gangster Squad. He’s joined by Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi).
Together this random band of black and blue vow to take down Cohen and everything that he stands for, bringing Los Angeles back to the people once and for all.
Ruben Fleischer hasn’t done a drama of this size before, mostly making his name working in the comedy genre. He excelled as a comedy director, breathing fresh life into zombies with the hilarious film Zombieland and making one hell of a race-against-the-clock comedy with 30 Minutes or Less.
But with Gangster Squad he goes for predictable and cliché over original and creative. He borrows a page from almost every previously established gangster drama book, right down to the presentation of the dialogue to the structure of the pacing. Gangster Squad is something we’ve seen before a dozen times and something that we’ve seen done much better.
Fleischer’s cast stands out among most other films, but he gives each member of the Squad very little to do when trying to balance out the entire picture. Brolin and Gosling struggle finding their own beats and instead stick to characters that they’ve played before, while Sean Penn’s Cohen is as just as over-the-top and silly as possible before becoming a complete cartoon character.
This would have all worked fine had Fleischer found something to make his own, but the only stamp he makes on this film is the decision to shoot it digitally versus film and the result is horrid. Fast-paced shootouts and chases are rendered darkly lit and hard to make out, while bright and detailed scenery just looks odd given the setting and era which the film is supposed to take place in.
He also employs the over-use of ramp-up speed shots and super slow-mo shots, which adds very little style to the picture and instead feels like post-production toying out of boredom.
Gangster Squad isn’t an awful movie by any means, it’s just one that we’ve already seen so many times before. Fleischer brings nothing new to the table and instead beats the genre clichés to death on film, I mean digital.
The film comes to Blu-Ray with a mostly faithful 1080p video transfer that highlights all of the positives of shooting digitally, while wisely holding back on the negatives as much as possible. This transfer contains a fair amount of shadows and undefined detail during most of the nighttime scenes, but when the time calls for a specific scene to pop you’ll notice just how strong the detail can truly be, specifically with the film’s lighter color palette. Skin tones are warm and textured.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is loud and in charge, often making up for the film’s video presentation fumbles. Dialogue is precisely divided on the front channels, while action and the film’s score cloud up both the front and rears. You may notice just how stunning the surround mix is during one of the film’s many shootouts. The track has the ability to separate almost each and every unique effect, allowing for next level clarity to be exposed. Gun blasts and broken glass come busting out of the channels, while much more subtle effects weigh in distantly.
WB was kind enough to load this combo pack with a hefty amount of bonus material. Here’s a full list of what’s included below:
- Audio Commentary
- The Gangland Files (HD)
- Focus Points: The Set-Up (HD)
- Deleted Scenes (HD)
- Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen (SD)
- Then and Now Locations (HD)
- Tough Guys with Style (HD)
- DVD Copy
- UltraViolet Digital Copy
Gangster Squad is still a difficult title to suggest, because it really is a forgettable title by all means, but chances are high that one might find it enjoyable at a rental level. Ruben Fleischer clearly is still finding his groove as a director and while I wouldn’t chalk Gangster Squad up as a massive failure I’d still have difficulty pegging it as a success. It lies in that middle zone, showing the director’s talents when it comes to working with actors, while also revealing his lack of style and originality when it comes the making a film truly his own.
Gangster Squad is a retro crime drama that features enough shootouts and sly talk to appeal to those looking to walk down memory lane, but be warned that you’ll be reliving some movies wholesale and not exploring anything new whatsoever, aside from the idea of shooting a 1940′s-set gangster drama on digital photography, which looks mostly ugly and out of place. WB loads the combo pack with enough features to kill some time afterwards, plus the video and audio presentations are sound, but all in all I’d still strongly suggest sticking to a rental.