Between HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and last year's underrated bootlegging film Lawless, it seems that the 1940's are making a comeback.
Originally slated to come out in September 2012, Gangster Squad finally sees the light of day after being delayed due to last minute re-shoots called for after the infamous Dark Knight Rises shooting in Aurora, CO. However, distancing itself from Lawless in August seems to have given this film a more unique feeling, allowing this period action drama a chance to shine on its own.
The year is 1949. The Los Angeles Police is slowly losing the battle against crime, led by New York criminal Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) and his network of gangsters and thugs. Seeing an opportunity to aggressively rid the City of Angels of crime, Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) tasks former war hero Sgt John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) to form a squad for one job: decimate Cohen's stronghold over the city, and bring him to justice. O'Mara, with the help of his wife Connie (Mireille Enos), selects Jerry Wooster (Ryan Gosling), Conrad Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and Navidad Rodriguez (Michael Pena) for the "Gangster Squad". However, things get complicated when Wooster becomes involved with Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), Cohen's latest love interest.
Director Reuben Fleischer (Zombieland) and writer Will Beall (TV's "Castle") bring the 1940's back to the big screen in a big way. Fleischer's knack for flashy images and intense action sequences and Beall's snappy, smart dialogue give the film an edge over the drabness of Lawless, while staying reasonably true to the era. Add in brilliant performances from Penn, Brolin, and Gosling, and you have a film that is wildly entertaining and incredibly intense.
The initial reaction may be to compare Gangster Squad to 1997's L.A. noir masterpiece L.A. Confidential, but this is not a fair comparison. Where Confidential is a suspenseful detective mystery, Squad is an edge-of-your seat action film. Both films incredible for different reasons. While it may not have the same edge that Confidential has, Squad delves more into the criminal underground, showing the seedy underbelly of 1940's Los Angeles and putting the whole bloody scene on display -- something that wasn't quite dared in 1997. Though there may be no mystery to solve, there's plenty going on for any fan of the era to enjoy.
FINAL VERDICT: Gangster Squad is not L.A. Confidential, but that's certainly not a bad thing. With brilliant costumes and set design, a wonder script, and performances by Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, and Ryan Gosling, they only mystery to solve here is why mainstream critics don't enjoy this film.