Reader review: Gangster Squad

2013-01-14 14:03
Gangster Squad
Gangster Squad with Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Mireille Enos, Sullivan Stapleton, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña and Anthony Mackie, directed by Ruben Fleischer.

Rating: 6 out of 10.

Cinemagoers hoping for a gritty, hard-boiled mix of LA Confidential and The Untouchables will be disappointed with Ruben Fleischer's colourful and cartoonish Gangster Squad, but this violent, melodramatic tale - set in the late 1940s and (very) loosely based on fact - about a secret LAPD unit charged with taking down mob boss Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) comes with a top quality cast, nifty period details, witty dialogue, cool costumes and plenty of bloody action set pieces. So it certainly has entertainment value and should please those punters looking for a glossy, fast moving period gangster yarn with loads of spectacular gunplay.

The graphically gory opening scene plays out under the famous Hollywoodland sign in the hills and shows Cohen chaining a man to two cars and pulling him apart before allowing his dogs to feast on the poor fellow's intestines.

Mickey sees Los Angeles as his personal fiefdom and because this brutal, dead-eyed thug has corrupt judges, cops and sheriffs on his payroll, the new police chief William Parker (a grim, grizzled and florid-faced Nick Nolte) is powerless to go after him by legal means.

But when the tough, honest and courageous Sergeant John O'Mara (Josh Brolin), a decorated WW2 veteran, flouts the rules and busts into one of Cohen's brothels to rescue a young lady from a fate worse than death, Parker asks him to set up a small, highly secretive task force and "drive the bastard out of town" by any means possible.

Aided by the advice of his worried, but supportive pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos, from The Killing and Big Love), O'Mara recruits knife-throwing beat cop Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), ace cowboy sharp-shooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) - who prefers a six shooter to a tommy gun, technology buff Conwell Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), slick-talking ladies man Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) and Kennard's rookie partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and prepares to launch attacks on one of Cohen's casinos and his heroin-running operation.

Meanwhile, Cohen is setting up a massively lucrative operation which will give him control of all the wire bookmaking west of Chicago and make him virtually untouchable. Thus time is of the essence.

It does not take long for Cohen to realise the gangster squad are an incorruptible crew and he tells his cohorts "a cop who is not for sale is like a dog with rabies, there's no medicine for it, you just gotta put 'em down".

Gangster Squad was lensed by Oscar winning cinematographer Dion Beebe, it takes place in a smoky, neon-lit, sepia-tinted Los Angeles and the Hollywood Boulevard of the '40s looks a treat, but the film sure does not have the depth, style, character development or rich, noir flavour of LA Confidential.

A hard-boiled Josh Brolin is well cast and looks the part, while Gosling and Stone (as Mickey's mole, Grace, who falls for Wooters' charms) provide some romantic heat and there are effective supporting turns from a warm, strong, emotionally potent Mireille Enos, Robert Patrick and the Australian actor Sullivan Stapleton (so good in Animal Kingdom). Anthony Mackie, Giovanni Ribisi and Michael Pena are all fine actors and turn in convincing performances, but one wishes they were not shortchanged by a script that fails to give them any big individual moments.

Then there is a heavily made up, scenery chewing Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen - who is portrayed as a raging, full-blown psycho, devoid of any charisma or likeable traits. It's an entertaining and enjoyable performance, but history tells us there was more to Cohen than the one-dimensional character we see here. Unlike Harvey Keitel (who played Cohen in Warren Beatty's Bugsy),  Penn will not be receiving an Oscar nomination for the part. Still, the film would be a whole lot less fun without him.

Gangster Squad suffers by comparison with The Untouchables,  but while Ruben Fleischer seems to have been inspired by the De Palma film, his flick is not in the same league.

However, while this is not a film that lingers on in the memory, and I would have preferred more storytelling and character development to go with the blazing action and violence, it's not boring, it should do quite well at the box office and it makes for a relatively enjoyable two hours at the movies.

Disclaimer: This is an article written by a Channel24 user. The views of users published on Channel24 are therefore their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Channel24. Channel24 reserves the right to edit or delete any and all comments received.

While it's got nothing on The Untouchables and LA Confidential, this movie comes with a top quality cast, nifty period details, witty dialogue, cool costumes and plenty of bloody action set pieces.
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