CY's Weekend Review: Gangster Squad

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A crime drama chronicling the LAPD's fight to keep East Coast Mafia types out of Los Angeles during the 1940s and 50s. Based on the Los Angeles Times' seven part series titled "Tales From the Gangster Squad", the film stars Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Josh Brolin & Giovanni Ribisi.
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A year ago “Gangster Squad” couldn’t have been more anticipated. A cast that included Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, and Sean Penn being directed by an up-and-coming director in Zombieland’s Ruben Fleischer. Then the Colorado shooting happened (no movie theater shooting in this movie) and that put an end to any Oscar chances. It doesn’t matter though. “Gangster Squad” doesn’t try too hard anyway, but it’s also pretty good because of the people listed above.

Taking place after the rise of Mickey Cohen (Penn) from Jewish boxing mutt to gangster king of Los Angeles in 1949, Brolin plays John O’Mara, a go-in-with-guns-blazing cop who came home from World War 2 and still had an axe to grind. His next war is a rogue mission against Cohen, as he is recruited to put together a hit squad to take down the gangster, who has most of LA’s cops and crime organizations in his back pocket.

O’Mara decides his team should consist of below-the-radar pistol packers like Jerry (Gosling),a cop far more interested in drinking and the girls at the clubs, particularly Cohen’s girl (Stone, sadly looking like nothing more than lovely window dressing), than his job it seems.

In addition to Brolin and Gosling, a nice team of character actors has been assembled here to round out the squad. There’s Anthony Mackie (playing a knife-wielding cop vehemently against Cohen’s selling of heroin), Giovanni Ribisi (a mousy wiretap expert), Robert Patrick (as a veteran gunslinger), and Michael Pena (Patrick’s partner and long-running joke about Mexicans on the police force in the 40’s). All of which have their moments.

Brolin leads the way with tough, brute force while Gosling always has charm to spare and a beating to throw. Sean Penn is undoubtedly going to get comparisons to one of those over-the-top mobster villains from “Dick Tracy” but I don’t think that automatically makes it less good. It’s a sneering, crazy, raging performance that satisfies more often than not.

Of course this film is based on a true story but if you’re looking for a history lesson to any of this, you might as well look elsewhere. Fleischer’s film is all cops and mobsters, guns and explosions, dialogue that tries (and mostly fails) to be witty and snappy and fantastic recreations of costumes and sets from the 40’s. The film also has one nice car chase with grenades and Fleischer doesn’t shy away from gore either (people are ripped in half by cars, drilled, burned, and hands are chopped off).

It’s all fairly entertaining but of course we’ve seen this many times before. The ending alone is packed with clichés (the slo-motion gun fight, the character who says “go get that Son of a B****”, and the character who happens to be the poorest shot of the group getting in one quality kill). But “Gangster Squad” gets style and performance points. It probably would have been more disappointing if it came out during last year’s Oscar season but as far as January offerings go it works just fine.