There were two clear paths to success for “Gangster Squad.” The first would be to follow the “L.A. Confidential” pattern and take a hardboiled approach to period criminality. Writer Will Beale crafts his screenplay with various neo-noir elements: the post-war moodiness and shadiness, a little bit of moral ambiguity, and of course, the femme fatale (Emma Stone’s red-haired dynamo Grace Faraday).
The second, and perhaps more reasonable, template would have been Brian DePalma’s 1987 “The Untouchables,” a movie that shares quite a few similarities with Ruben Fleischer’s “Gangster Squad.” There’s the borderline insane crime lord of a major city who just happens to be played by a two-time Oscar winner (Sean Penn now, Robert DeNiro then). Because of that de facto tyrant’s chokehold on that city, a team of top law enforcement officials is tasked with bringing him to his knees.
The only difference is Eliot Ness and the Untouchables stayed within the boundaries of the law. Josh Brolin’s John O’Mara, Ryan Gosling’s Jerry Wooters, and the rest of the titular merry band of extralegal avengers have no such regard for the rules. They go outside the law to stop a man who is above the law. But in such a drastically different detail, little new conclusions are ultimately reached.