There's nothing sexier than hard-boiled cops in fedoras fighting brutality during an age when the line between right and wrong is like religious metaphor. In the biblical story, God rains fire and brimstone on the city of Sodom and Gomorrah. In "Gangster Squad" the wrathful hand of God, in the form of Police Chief Nick Nolte, descends upon Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his brutal mobsters. In the city of angels the police chief sicks his “angels” on Cohen for the ol’ “eye for an eye.” It's reminiscent of Samuel L. Jackson's quasi-bible rap in Quentin Tarantino’s "Pulp Fiction" right before he blows a guy away with a 9mm pistol: "I will strike down upon thee with great vengeance and furious anger those who attempt to poison and destroy my brothers. And you will know I am the Lord."
Movies are not life. From the early days of Punch and Judy, slapstick violence has served as entertainment for the masses. Nobody ever said to James Holmes, "Go buy automatic weapons and shoot up a theater filled with innocent people." Sandy Hook elementary school shooter Adam Lanza should not be the barometer of whether or not it's okay to love movies like "Gangster Squad." Audiences don’t want to feel guilty for enjoying a bloody massacre movie where the bad guy gets his comeuppance. "Gangster Squad" is about right and wrong. If only life could satiate people the way the ending of a great movie does.
There’s nothing more violent than the stories in the Bible; people stoned to death, babies chopped in half, murdered concubines. Is it really necessary to feel a social responsibility about glorified violence in movies because psychotics can get their hands on automatic weapons and go shoot up a crowd of innocents?
The problem is not guns and blood in movies. It is the lack of gun control combined with mentally ill individuals slipping through the cracks of society. If you are a fan of shoot ’em ups, run, don’t walk, to “Gangster Squad.” Feel free to drool over Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone as they sizzle right off the screen. Cheer for Josh Brolin as he beats bad guys to a blood-soaked heap.
This is crime-busting movie making at its best and no one should feel guilty for enjoying the heck out of it. That’s entertainment.
Rated R. 113 minutes. “Gangster Squad” opened today in New York City.