I’m just gonna come out and say it: Sylvester Stallone is way more talented than Sean Penn. You can argue about the limits of their acting talents, but Sean Penn is always Sean Penn as much as Sly is always Sly. They have the same expressive range, which is to say, not much at all as far as we’re allowed to observe.
Penn actually has far less excuse to be as monotone as he is. Stallone wanted to play Edgar Allen Poe back in his 30s but who was going to put up money for that movie? (Instead, thirty years later, we get John Cusack.)
And don’t give me that Harvey Milk/I Am Sam crap, either. Guarantee you never, ever stop thinking “I’m watching Sean Penn pretend to be gay/handicapped/Republican”. Even when he’s giving the most over-the-top performance in the history of Clint Eastwood movies—and keep in mind that’s the scene they showed at the Oscars when giving it to him (instead of Kevin Bacon, who kicks ass)—much like Stallone, he might as well just play characters named “Sean Penn”.
Stallone at least can write. He got his Oscar noms for writing and acting in Rocky of course. When Sean Penn writes, he channels the Unibomber.
Fortunately, Gangster Squad makes no literary demands on him, and only requires Penn to rehash his ersatz Robert De Niro thing, and he does passably well at that, playing L.A. gangster/businessman/ex-pugilist Micky Cohen.
Critics didn’t care for this movie with audiences responding somewhat more favorable, so we were a little surprised at how much we all enjoyed it. This is just a straight-up, old-school—like ‘30s/’40s era old-school—gangster flick. The good guys are good, and the bad guys are bad, even if there’s otherwise no particular difference in their behavior.
I mean, look, Ryan Gosling is the lovable rogue who hooks up with Cohen’s girlfriend (the delightfully ubiquitous Emma Stone), and who isn’t interested in joining the Gangster Squad until an innocent shoeshine boy finds himself in the crossfire of a gang war.
That really tells you all you need to know, except that apart from the anachronistic plot and characterization, the action is entertaining and the movie rambles along at an amiable clip, allowing Josh Brolin, the stalwart, bullheaded detective to grunt his way through to a satisfying conclusion.
Giovanni Ribisi plays the Charles Martin Smith role, as a nerdy tech who wires up the bad guys’ house. Michael Pena is in the Andy Garcia role, as the Mexican rookie who tags along uninvited. Robert Patrick is his partner, a quick-drawing cowboy in the Sean Connery role. (That would be The Untouchables, of course.)
Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) has a nice, light touch that comes out, once again. The proceedings are fun, and almost completely devoid of the ugly grittiness that usually accompanies gangster flicks.
Of course, a lot of people like that stuff. It feeds into their vanity that they’re into “realism”. Or at least that’s my theory. This kind of film feeds into my vanity that I’m into “fun”. So, you know. Whatevs.
The Flower and The Boy both enjoyed. The Boy, who really loves The Untouchables, was particularly pleased by the straightforward nature of the film.