Stylish ‘Gangster Squad’ suffers from chaotic tone, poor timing

Emma Stone and Ryan Gosling in ‘Gangster Squad.’ Rated R, 113 min. Warner Bros. Pictures, 2013.

Aiming for the old-fashioned film noir feel of “L.A. Confidential” and its predecessors, “Gangster Squad” busts out all the touchstones of the genre: an idealist cop (Josh Brolin), a reluctant young hero (Ryan Gosling), a femme fatale (Emma Stone), and great period style.

The film unfolds as a rag-tag team of off-the-record police go after 1940s gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). Unfortunately, the timing of this very violent film’s release couldn’t be worse. It was delayed for re-editing following the Aurora theatre massacre, and now it falls in the midst of a national discussion about gun control and violence in the media. Guns factor into nearly every scene, which may lessen your enjoyment of the story.

Penn, who often keeps his movies grounded in a gritty reality, this time turns in a performance from another planet as the growling, gun-happy gangster. Penn knew he had the showiest role, and he milked it more than necessary. The whole experience is very incongruous: beatings do not mix well with one-liner jokes and swooning romantic interludes. Some films can make a wide mix of genres work, but “Gangster Squad” is a chaotic imitator that struggles to reach its lofty aspirations.

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