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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Gangster Squad | Sean Penn, James Brolin, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Robert Patrick, Giovani Ribisi, Michael Pena, Ryan Gosling | Review

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Gangster Squad

Working from a script by former detective Will Beall, director Ruben Fleischer's (Zombieland) shoot em up gangster movie is 'loosely' based on true events that took place in mob ridden Los Angeles of 1949.  It stars a top notch ensemble cast led by Sean Penn, delivering another spot-on performance, as the ex boxer turned  brutal, heartless mobster Mickey Cohen and Josh Brolin, great as the moral cop assigned to take Cohen down.

Arriving in Los Angeles with a lust for power, Brooklyn born Mickey Cohen (Penn) appointed himself crime boss, taking control of drugs, guns, and prostitution and seeking to take over all bookmaking wire bets throughout the western US. with the paid protection of the police, politicians and his own gang of swarmy henchman.

In an effort to fight back, Police Chief Parker (the always gruff speaking Nick Nolte) wages a war on Cohen by recruiting an honest cop, square jawed, WWII veteran, Sgt. John O'Mara, (Brolin) who is all about honor and duty, to lead a small, secret team of LAPD outsiders to shatter Cohen's operations, destroy his establishments and drive him out of town.

With help from his supportive, smart, pregnant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos) to find the guys with the right stuff, O'Mara enlists old timer, Max Kennard, nicknamed Hopalong (Robert Patrick) for his sharp shooting abilities, Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) a knife wielding beat cop,  and Officer Conway Keele (Giovanni Ribisi) a nerdy but brainy wiretapper with a wife and kids.  Kennard's hispanic sidekick Ramirez (Michael Pena) winds up tagging along, and soon the group is joined by detective Jerry Wooters, a cool, cocky, and suave, ladies man (Ryan Gosling) who has fallen for Grace (Emma Stone, never looking more slinky and glamorous, a throwback to the Hollywood starlets of that era), Cohen's current “hot tomato” girlfriend.

As crime and punishment come into play there is lots of violence including requisite shootouts with pistols, fiery machine guns, fist fights, stabbings, explosions and carnage. Cohen is a sadistic character, so what he has his goons do to his victims is graphically depicted, and bloody awful to say the least.  In order to fight fire with fire, the “mission impossible” type gangster squad come up with their own methods of attack that often means going against their rules and playing dirty.

Director Fleisher has created a stylish and sleek crime drama splendidly capturing the look, feel and atmosphere of 1940's Los Angeles including gorgeous set decoration and  costume design. Plus, fancy camera work is utilized incorporating effective slow motion shots. Unfortunately, other than O'Mara and Wooters, the rest of the gangster squad's characters are underdeveloped and not given enough screen time.

As for the relationship between Jerry and Grace, it lacks substance other than a mutual sexual attraction. The question is why a smart “dame” like Grace, would ever allow herself to be caught up in Cohen's world and become his latest “skirt”.  The only thing we know about her is that she arrived in Hollywood as an aspiring actress.  Needless to say, Grace becomes the damsel in distress only to be saved by the handsome detective she is secretly seeing on the side.

Gangster Squad may not be as good as say, The Untouchables, and at times it is a bit cartoonish. Yet, it kept my interest.

In the end, it really comes down to whether the film is entertaining.  The answer is undeniably yes.  I liked the film, regardless of some negative elements, and no, I am not referring to the mobster and his goons.

Here is an interesting post note.  The film was scheduled to be released last September but was held back after the Aurora, Colorado movie theatre tragedy in July, in order to replace the theatre massacre scene with a reshoot involving a Chinatown confrontation.


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