Theatrical Review: Gangster Squad

The time is 1949 and gangster Mickey Cohen is running roughshod over the city of Los Angeles. Chief of Police Parker tries to take back the city by assembling a few good men to work outside of the law, headed by sergeants John O’Mara and Jerry Wooters and a literal war is about to break out over the streets of Los Angeles.

That’s the premise behind Gangster Squad the newest movie from director Ruben Fleischer, who previously directed the film Zombieland (which I have not seen, but plan to rectify that in the near future). As this movie starts, it basically tells you that it’s “inspired by true events,” and that’s basically a little warning sign to tell you that they’re going to play fast and loose with history here. That’s certainly fine if your intention is basically making escapist fare as opposed to a docudrama, and that’s exactly what Fleischer is doing here. [b]Gangster Squad[/b] isn’t meant to be taken seriously by any means, though don’t get me wrong, it’s not a comedy, but pure popcorn entertainment.

Fleischer wears his influences on his sleeve and obviously, the first thing that will come to mind for just about anybody (providing that you’ve seen the film) is Brian DePalma’s version of The Untouchables. Gangster Squad’s set-up and approach pretty much mimics what DePalma did, though without DePalma’s signature visual and dramatic style. For me, I also thought I was seeing a few little homages to films like The Dirty Dozen (during a break-in bit of Mickey Cohen’s home) and the first Lethal Weapon with the climactic fight between O’Mara and Cohen. There’s really nothing original at work here and there’s nothing wrong with that if the final film is entertaining and I certainly thought that it was.

Gangster Squad has a terrific look to it and Fleischer dramatic style here harkens back more to classic gangster films of the 40s as opposed to a dryer tone. As such, all of the characters are pretty broad and that certainly might be a turn-off to some if you’re looking for something that’s a little more deadly serious in it’s approach. To me, this felt a lot like a classic crime comic book complete with over-the-top violence and I just had a ball with it.

Fleischer’s assembled a pretty impressive cast here and they all look like they’re having fun with this. Josh Brolin plays O’Mara and Ryan Gosling plays Wooters. Brolin really looks the part as the tough as nails cop who’s all about doing the right thing. Gosling’s character is a little reluctant to take the straight arrow path, but also displays a killer instinct when he’s pressed. The rest of the team that O’Mara assembles is played by actor Robert Patrick, Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi and they’re spot-on perfect for their supporting parts. I was particularly surprised to see Patrick as part of this group and thought he helped bring some proper weight to the whole thing.

Emma Stone plays Grace, Cohen’s woman who’s also very much attracted to Wooters. Nick Nolte plays Chief Parker and veteran character actor Jon Polito plays a rival to Cohen. They’re all just fine and certainly serviceable to their parts. The best performance in the movie though has to go to Sean Penn who plays Mickey Cohen. Now, I’m not exactly the biggest fan of Penn’s and ted to think most of his performances are a little overrated, but here… well, I just thought it was a lot of fun whenever he was on-screen. He really looked like he was having a ball here and no doubt needed a toothpick after each scene to clean the scenery out of his teeth. It’s a big over-the-top performance that’s very much appropriate to the film that Fleischer’s made.

I had a great time with Gangster Squad. It moves quickly, has a terrific cast and is unapologetic in what it’s doing, which is basically reveling in the style of classic crime movies of the past. Yeah, I’ll grant you, there’s nothing new here, but it’s still well put together and it’s just plain fun- very much recommended.

By Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

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