You’ve got to be careful what you say about a movie like Gangster Squad. Calling it a film noire just because of the setting would be highly inaccurate. Calling it a true story because it's based on a few factual events (which it is) is like calling it a remake--after all, it borrows liberally from _The Magnificent Seven _(a remake in itself). And still I want to sing the praises of this film. The dialogue is deliciously pulpy and the action moves at a generous clip. On the other hand, I can't help but call out its shortcomings.
Please, just hear me out before you decide whether or not to slit my throat.
Set in Los Angeles in 1949, we follow an off-the-books police unit tasked with terrorizing mobsters. Their primary target is the infamous Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), an ex-boxer from the East Coast who exults in a vicious brand of business. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) is the first of many WWII vets asked to use his extensive experience in warfare to shoot first and ask questions never. He recruits a team of misfit officers whose spotty discipline records mean they aren't at risk of ever being promoted or bought off. Ryan Gosling, Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña and Giovanni Ribisi round out the team, and they waste precious little time following Nick Nolte's awesomely illegal order to kick ass.
So far, sign me up.
Along the way, Emma Stone rolls between both parties as aspiring actress Grace Faraday. Stone has looks and charm to spare, and finds herself, refreshingly, on equal footing with Gosling after being gobsmacked by the man in Crazy. Sexy. Love. For his part (and probably to your interest), Gosling employs a slight vocal affectation that harkens back to the wise-cracking sidekicks of the 1950s. He plays a cool but self-interested greaseball, and delivers, in his nasally why-I-oughta voice some of the films best lines: "This whole city's underwater and you're grabbing a bucket instead of a bathing suit".
When dialogue like that lands right, it makes me smile. You must have felt the same way.
But, in what feels like a misguided tribute to Chinatown, the movie forgets itself when it gets to…Chinatown. Suddenly the whole plan goes wrong, but somehow not wrong enough. The film clearly isn't trying to delve too deeply into the shadows, but it certainly would have benefitted from being as bold and careless as its characters. Instead, a neat and tidy voiceover bookends the story and softens the punch. This isn't the film's only fault, but you know how these things go, kid. Someone's gotta pay for a screw up. Even if it's da wrong guy.
Sorry for cuttin' you loose.