The scene is Los Angeles, circa 1949. A punk Jewish boxer named Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) has established a crime fiefdom in the City of Angels. But Cohen is getting cocky, and power-hungry. He bumps off two important contacts to the mob in Chicago (no - not Obama, the real mob) and suddenly, Cohen is caught between the cross-hairs of the mafia and Chief Parker (Nick Nolte), who is hell-bent on forcing Cohen out of LA. He recruits Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) to head a squad of hand-picked men who will work outside the restrictions of the department to do whatever it takes to force Cohen out of town. O’Mara, looking for the best men through profiles from the police department, is soon over-ruled by his expecting wife, Connie (Mireille Enos), who wants her husband surrounded by gunslingers rather than choirboys. She selects the team for him, some from pulp news magazines. They include: Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick); Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena); Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie); Officer Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi); and his friend Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who just happens to be conducting an affair with Cohen’s main squeeze Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). Thus sets up a great ensemble cast in a fun, fanciful romp about real gangsters, and not boneheads who need to pull up their pants.
KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
- THE ELEVATOR SCENE
- THE “HERE COMES SANTA CLAUSE” SCENE
- TARGET PRACTICE.
“Gangster Squad” originally was scheduled for release in September. A crucial set-up scene, where Cohen finally becomes aware of the members of the squad and plots a counterstrike, was originally set in a movie theatre. The scene bore too much resemblance to the Aurora, CO shooting of July 20, 2012. The campaign for “Gangster Squad” was pulled immediately, and the producers opted to reshoot the scene. Now, instead of a movie theatre, Cohen exacts his revenge in the heart of Chinatown.
The sensitivity to the scene caused an interesting note to the end credits. Dion Beebe is listed as the film Director of Photography. Beebe came to prominence with his work on “Memoirs of a Geisha”. He followed that with two musicals, “Chicago” and “Nine”. While the cast was reassembled to reshoot the movie theatre scene, Beebe had already left to work on the movie version of “All You Need Is Kill” with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. Cinematographer extraordinaire Caleb Deschanel was brought in for the reshoots. That’s like having Peyton Manning as your backup QB. Deschanel receives a one-line mention, buried in the closing credits. He tried to match Beebe’s style, but that scene in particular has its own unique look.
Will Beall offers a gritty, fast-paced script. He is currently penning “Justice League” for DC Pictures.
Brolin has his character, and the pulp fiction look down pat. “Gangster Squad” is essentially a tale about the Warrior’s Code and Brolin’s mien captures its essence with aplomb. He’s solid in the lead. And, I must say, so is Sean Penn. I loathe Penn. He’s the embodiment of all that is wrong with Hollywood; in fact he often presents himself as a politician in actor’s clothing. But, credit where credit is due, his portrayal of Cohen is great.
This is the first movie of the year worth paying to see. It’s violent and sexy, so leave the kiddies home. “Gangster Squad” makes a nice adult outing, stopping beforehand for a fine Italian dinner, and afterwards for Sambuca or Frangelico Coffee. Beninssimo!
GANGSTER SQUAD = B+
Fiore Mastracci is an award-winning filmcritic living in Pittsburgh. He hosts and produces “Outtakes”, the longest-running film review program in the nation.