CONTAINS SPOILERS AND STUFF
Is there any worse reaction to a film than "hmmmm"? Is there anything worse than an absence of any response? Hobo With A Shotgun, Hidden In The Woods, Battleship and whatever found footage atrocity/giant CGI shark nonsense/Mark Wahlberg comedy they're tossing out this week at least provoke a response, albeit a negative one, rather than the viewer just passively absorbing it. (Incidentally, if anyone wants to make a found footage comedy in which Mark Wahlberg fights a CGI shark, I will find you and I will kill you.) Bad movies make you react, even if it is in anger, hate and irritation. Surely worse is merely sitting there until it's over and then just walking away.
The trouble is that Gangster Squad could have been so much better but it's fatally hampered by a number of serious flaws, and the re-edit and reshoots to replace a gun massacre in a crowded cinema (in the wake of the terrible real events in Aurora) isn't one of them: despite the reshoots the film will never escape the association. Los Angeles is run by untouchable gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), and a squad of supercops is put together by police chief Nick Nolte to shut his operations down, headed by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling and Robert Patrick. It helps that Gosling's character is sweet on Cohen's current girlfriend (Emma Stone)....
It looks fine, at least with regard to the hats and cars and period detail in the production design. But at points it looks absolutely terrible as far as image quality is concerned. That's because Ruben Fleischer has shot the whole thing on digital and two night-time action sequences in particular, a car chase and a fistfight, have the smooth and ungraded look of a budget camcorder to them. Once it looks like video, it looks cheap and shoddy and, more damagingly for a period film, it looks like it was shot in the last six months. Obviously it was, but film would have provided the cinematic illusion of timelessness and that electronic TV sheen destroys the illusion that the costumes and set decorators have worked so hard to set up. The climactic punch-up between Penn and Brolin doesn't look like it's from Gangster Squad, it looks like it's behind-the-scenes footage spliced in from the Making Of featurette on the DVD. Remember Michael Mann's Public Enemies? It's the same deal here.
Let's not even bother as to whether the film's claim to be "based on a true story" has the faintest shred of relevance whatsoever: suffice to say most of the movie bears absolutely no resemblance to the events detailed on Cohen's Wikipedia page. And I still remain immune to the supposed charm and charisma of Ryan Gosling. I know romantic leads tend towards the wet and uninteresting while the character actors get all the best stuff to do (Nick Nolte gets to growl more gruffly than ever, Sean Penn goes wildly over the top) but he's a blank, and although blankness was right for his loner character in Drive, it isn't right for his LAPD character here. Like Gangster Squad itself, he may (or may not) look pretty but that's all on the surface, there's not much of interest going on underneath.
It's odd that the director also made Zombieland, which was a lot better, a lot more enjoyable and had more charm about it. (Okay, he also made 30 Minutes Or Less which was pretty terrible.) Gangster Squad could have been something terrific, but in the end, when it's at its very best, it's hmmmm. And that's nothing like enough.