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Gangster Squad (2013)

Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/23/2013

All Ratings out of
Video: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/23/2013

Ask anyone who's tried to break into the movie business, and they'll tell you that getting in is incredibly tough. (Go ahead, ask me.) And yet, new filmmakers get movies released all the time. Many are wary of these newcomers, but if there first effort is impressive, movie fans want to see more from them. Ruben Fleischer came onto the scene in 2009 with Zombieland, a movie which deftly mixed comedy and horror in a time which zombie movies were already growing cliched. However, he followed that with the promising but disappointing 30 Minutes or Less, an action-comedy which was both surprisingly brief and short on laughs. For his third outing, Fleischer has taken on the period piece Gangster Squad. Does this project get him back in stride?

Gangster Squad is set in Los Angeles in the late 1940s. A violent gangster named Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is attempting to take over all of the organized crime in the city by intimidating or murdering his competition. However, law enforcement either can't or won't do anything to stop him. LAPD's John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) decides that something needs to be done about this. With the support of his superior, Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) (who also states that he will deny any knowledge of the group), O'Mara puts together a team to help him. He recruits Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), and Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) to help him and they each bring a special skill to the group. (Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) tags along with Kennard.) The group begins to monitor Cohen's communications and attack his operations. Of course, Cohen didn't get as far as he did by being dumb, and he retaliates. Soon, the City of Angels is involved in an all-out war.

Hollywood loves a comeback, even it it's one which no one was asking for. It seems that every few years we get a gangster film which wants to harken back to the films of the first half of the 20th Century or TV shows like The Untouchables. But, is there still an audience for this type of movie? Also, Mickey Cohen has been featured in other things, most notably L.A. Confidential, but this is the first time which he's been the dominant bad-guy. Again, if his story was worth telling, wouldn't it have been done by now?

Despite the fact that it's trying to resurrect a genre, Gangster Squad only offers a few new things. Fleischer uses quick editing at times and the film takes advantage of surround sound technology in order to jack up the sounds of the gunfire, but otherwise, this could be a film from any era. If the goal was to pay homage to the gangster films of the past, that's fine, but given the cast and some of the marketing, one has to assume that the film was meant to appeal to a younger crowd. Even if they've never seen a gangster film proper before, they will no doubt get the feeling that most everything here is done by the numbers.

The familiarity of the material gets no help from the script by Will Beall. The movie just begins, giving little backstory or characterization. As noted above, each member of the "Gangster Squad" has a unique trait, but that's all that most of the characters are -- Coleman is the African-American guy, Kennard is the grizzled old veteran, etc. Emma Stone appears in the film as Grace, Mickey's girlfriend who becomes involved with Wooters. But, we never learn anything about her either? Is she a gold-digger? Is she bad? How did she end up with Mickey? The movie simply whirls along throwing one cliched action scene after another at us without ever once stopping to insert any real meaning into the story. Matters aren't helped by the fact that the ending portrayed here doesn't accurately reflect what happened to Mickey Cohen in real life.

I distinctly remember going into Zombieland with trepidation, but I was won over by the creativity and energy of the film. However, Fleischer's subsequent movies have yet to live up to that promise. Was Zombieland successful because of the script? I do like the fact that Fleischer is loyal to his actors, having cast some of the same faces in various films. And, I admire that idea that he tried something different from his other movies (which have been very modern and cynical) with Gangster Squad. However, this movie lacks any energy or originality. The gangster film could definitely do with a makeover, but this movie simply felt like a re-tread.

Gangster Squad could have used subtitles when Sean Penn was talking on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no grain and no defects from the source material. A lot of the movie takes place at night, and the image is notably dark at times. There were a few shots where it was difficult to make out what was happening. The daytime scenes look much better, showing a crisp image and good colors. The image never gets soft, so the level of detail is good, and for the most part, the depth is what we've come to expect from a new film on Blu-ray. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.8 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The audio is fine, but that bitrate is suspiciously low for a film like this. Even the big machine gun battles barely get the rate about 3.0 Mbps. The surround sound effects during the big action scenes are good, as the sounds of gunfire and racing cars fills the rear speakers. However, I didn't detect many distinct, individual sounds. The subwoofer effects are fine and never overwhelming, and the stereo effects show good separation.

The Gangster Squad Blu-ray Disc contains a selection of extras. The film can be viewed with "The Gangland Files" mode, which is hosted by Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Josh Brolin. This includes historical trivia and a look at the film's locations. This feature's "Focus Points" can also be viewed independently. These 15 brief featurettes run for a total of 46 minutes and focus on the real story and various aspects of the film, such as the actors, the costumes, and the photography. The film can also be viewed with an AUDIO COMMENTARY from Director Ruben Fleischer. "Then and Now Locations" (8 minutes) compares photos of real-life locations in the film from how they looked in the 40s to how they look today. "Tough Guys with Style" (5 minutes) looks at the appearance and the style of the male characters in the film. The Disc contains seven DELETED SCENES which include an introduction from Fleischer and run about 12 minutes. The movie theater shootout, which was removed following the awful occurrence in Colorado, is not included here. "Rogues Gallery: Mickey Cohen" (47 minutes) is a documentary which tells the true story of the notorious gangster.

Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013.