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Gangster Squad - DVD Review

Gangster Squad

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

RUBEN Fleischer has all but remade The Untouchables with his new film Gangster Squad – only without the classic values of that Brian De Palma masterpiece.

While acknowledging that the film was inspired by the true story of how a group of LA cops banded together to bring down ruthless crime boss Mickey Cohen in 1949, Fleischer takes most of his cues (so it would seem) from other genre movies.

But while the ensuing film entertains in fits and starts, it also carries a mean streak that sometimes feels unpalatable and fails to make the most of either its historical context or fantastic cast. As a result, it falls some way short of the benchmark set by other genre classics.

Of the aforementioned cast, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Robert Patrick, Nick Nolte, Michael Peña and Giovanni Ribisi line up for the good guys, while Sean Penn brings trademark intensity (and a genuinely nasty streak) to the role of Cohen and Emma Stone is the femme fatale caught in the crossfire.

Fleischer, though, gives very few of them chance to shine, even though all are on good form. This is first and foremost Gosling’s movie and he brings trademark cool and charisma, striking romantic sparks with Stone and believable brutality to his off-the-books police work.

But Penn is a little too one dimensional for his own good (failing to make the most of several historical reports that suggest that Cohen, for all his ruthlessness, could also be a charmer), while the likes of Peña, Nolte, Patrick and Ribisi are afforded too little time to make a bigger impression (or underline their talent). No such criticism could be levelled at De Palma’s Untouchables.

Disappointing, too, is some of the woefully predictable plotting, with the fate of certain characters too easily telegraphed (especially for those with a firm grasp of genre convention) and the use of violence, which is sometimes overly explicit and borderline exploitative (especially for a 15 certificate).

One or two of the opening, establishing bursts of violence are particularly distasteful and leave a nasty taste from which the film takes a while to recover, while also rendering attempts to explore the morals and ethics at play somewhat inert.

That being said, the film does entertain when doing what it does best (reverting to classic cops against gangsters mode with all tommy guns blazing) and has plenty of style and energy to just about get away with it.

So, while it certainly can’t hold a candle to the best that the genre has to offer, Gangster Squad still has its moments and has to go down more as a triumph of style over substance.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 113mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: May 27, 2013