‘Gangster Squad’ is a very violent but stylistic attention-grabbing, popcorn movie that presses the right buttons for an audience who expects to see a gangster-style ‘shoot-’em-up’ between good versus evil forces in late 1940s Los Angeles.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer (‘Zombieland’), ‘Gangster Squad’ tells the inspired-by-true-events story of former East Coast gangster Mickey Cohen, played wickedly by Sean Penn, who attempts to take over and fully control all illicit, money-making activities in Los Angeles. Penn’s baddy Cohen is one of the few characters to provide some dimensionality to his performance by viscerally exploding with anger at anyone who dares to cross or impede his ‘business.’ In fact, the primal, violent streak of Penn’s Cohen is such that his mere presence in almost any scene signals to the audience that brutal mayhem is about to occur.
One of the few who dares to (secretly) cross Cohen is LA Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) who tasks the forthright, WW-II veteran Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) with the hush-hush creation of an unofficial police squad to take down Cohen before the gangster’s power completely monopolizes all crime in Los Angeles. The rest of the squad recruits are solely unidimensional in their talents (the sharp shooter, the intellectual, etc.). Amongst the squad members, only Ryan Gosling, as last-to-be recruited savvy ladies’ man, Sgt. Jerry Wooters, crackles on the screen. His secret trysts with Cohen’s arm-candy, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) are engaging and bring some level of believability to the otherwise very clear-cut battle of right against wrong.
The nearly two-hour long film’s predictable scenarios (public gangster versus police fights, loss of innocent life) occur repeatedly with copious amounts of blood, fistfights, and firefights throughout. This film is not a true drama for, at best, the viewer can make only a superficial connection with the majority of the almost ‘Dick Tracy’-like, cartoonish players. It is, instead, ultimately, an immersive action film with an occasional wink and nod to its modern audience (e.g., clearly highlighting the LA Police Chief’s assistant Daryl Gates, who real-life namesake is likely well known to many as the LAPD chief who helped create SWAT teams in LA).
This is not a gangster movie with the gravitas of ‘The Godfather’ or even that of ‘The Untouchables.’ The audience easily knows who is on the right side of the law and who is wrong in a very cut-and-dry fashion. But, the sumptuous look of post WW-II Los Angeles and the film’s appealing players allow ‘Gangster Squad’s’ somewhat clichéd plot to be overlooked and the viewer to have an enjoyable time while in its midst. ‘Gangster Squad’ is rated R for strong violence and language and opens Friday in San Antonio.