What It's About
A straight-forward yet stylish crime drama, "Gangster Squad" is based on a real police unit whose mission was to take down mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a despicable power-mad thug.
The Mafia monster ruled organized crime on the West Coast, controlling narcotics, prostitution, illegal gambling and assorted vices. He also had judges and law enforcement on his payroll, hence the difficulty in stopping corruption and stopping the bad guys.
Los Angeles 1949
Performances: A top-notch cast elevates this basic cops-and-robbers movie, with solid work from Josh Brolin and Ryan Gosling as two World War II veterans turned honest cops, who have different law-and-order methods. Brolin plays John O'Mara, a hothead fighting machine, while Gosling is Jerry Wooters, a more cynical yet analytical cop whose deepening relationship with Cohen's mistress Claire (Emma Stone) is a major sticking point.
With Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pena, Anthony Mackie and Robert Patrick as the other members of the secret squad, you know they bring their A-game, if only the material would have served them better
Nick Nolte, who has developed a gravelly, hard-to-modulate voice in advancing years, is the L.A. police captain who establishes the mob war.
Sean Penn chews up the scenery as the ruthless Cohen, and is so over-the-top at times he seems like a Dick Tracy cartoonish villain.
"Gangster Squad" is a good old-fashioned yarn that's more akin to such standard entertainment as "The Untouchables" rather than the higher echelon "L.A. Confidential." High art, it's not.
However, the cinematography is superb. The period look is sleek, with cool coupes, grand buildings, snazzy attire and swinging music. At any time, you feel like Broderick Crawford could be driving a police car, Lana Turner would be the dame, and vintage Hollywood henchmen wearing fedoras would appear.
What Doesn't Work
The violence is gruesome --especially off-putting is the frequent barrage of bullets. But it's a graphic depiction of a mob war, whose target is an evil sick-and-twisted madman. The pummeling and gunfire get repetitive fast -- it's piled on so heavily.
Much publicity has surrounded the scene that was exorcized -- the shooting in the movie theater, after the real-life tragedy in Colorado last summer. In fact, this movie was set to open in the fall, but was pushed back to the no-man's-land of January so that they could film additional scenes. The film didn't need the movie theater scene, that's for sure. This might be a turning point in that violence will be toned down in the future -- we'll have to watch if there is a noticeable change.
The script, by former homicide detective Will Beall, attempts to capture the cadence of old-timey gangster movies, but is uneven in execution.
It is a cliched copycat of those films, but there is the nostalgia factor at work here -- and that sways me into saying it's worth-seeing. But you can guess every outcome at every juncture.
3 starts out of 4
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Starring: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Anthony Mackie, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Pe(*150*)a, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick
Rated: R for strong violence and language