Mob flick Gangster Squad proudly claims to be inspired by a true story, but its definition of the terms “true” and “story” seems to be particularly loose. There’s not much truth here, and little in the way of story.
No matter. This pulpy, derivative treatment of the battle between the Los Angeles police department and the infamous gangster Mickey Cohen in the late 1940s may live in the shadow of betters such as The Untouchables, Chinatown and LA Confidential but it’s serviceable enough entertainment while it lasts.
Sure, Gangster Squad is frequently dumb with paper-thin plotting and characters, but it’s also racy, stylish, and occasionally funny. Thanks to the efforts of the cast, some chewy hardboiled dialogue, and a few cracking action scenes, Gangster Squad passes a couple of hours pleasantly enough.
Ostensibly based on a nonfiction book by Paul Lieberman, Gangster Squad pits straight-arrow copper-and-war hero Sergeant John O’Mara (played by Josh Brolin) against Cohen as he tries to establish himself as LA’s gangster number one.
O’Mara is joined in his quest by cynical ladies’ man Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling — who else?), streetwise Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), crack shot Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), eager greenhorn Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) and surveillance expert Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi).
The handpicked team of incorruptible cops strives to tear down the gangster’s empire brick by brick, doing what it takes to hurt Cohen in a tainted city where dirty cops and judges keep him safe from prosecution.
They dole out beatings, burn down buildings and trash warehouses, with only Ribisi’s Keeler pausing to ask whether lawmen should be resorting to the tactics of criminals. No one here wastes time wrestling with their conscience like Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness in The Untouchables — they’re too busy rushing to the next shootout.
Like Al Capone, the real Mickey Cohen was eventually pinched for tax evasion. Without spoiling the ending of the film, this is not what happens in Gangster Squad. Perhaps director Ruben Fleischer figured that he wouldn’t copy the ending of Brian de Palma’s classic The Untouchables after imitating nearly everything else about it.
Fleischer keeps it all moving along at quite a brisk pace, though his take on the mob movie is nowhere nearly as successful as his zom-com Zombieland. Part of the problem is that he seems unsure whether he is aiming for the comic book noir of Sin City or the period authenticity of LA Confidential, resulting in a mix of uneven tones. The film also has a glossy digital look that is at odds with its post-World War 2 setting.
But what a cast Fleischer has to work with, even if many of the roles are underwritten. Brolin, as square jawed and cartoonish as Dick Tracy, brings a presence as elemental and imposing as a slab of rock to the film, while Penn’s dead-eyed boxer turned mobster reeks of bloodlust and hunger for power.
Emma Stone as Cohen’s moll and Wooters’s paramour (talk about a conflict of interest) has a velvety voice and a set of curves that wouldn’t be out of place in a 40s noir. Gosling is reliable as the quiet but tough Wooters, a character much in the same mould as the Drive guy. The grizzled Nick Nolte as the police chief who gives the gangster squad their blessing to crack mobster skulls, meanwhile, establishes a powerful presence with just a few quick scenes. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media
- Read more: Gangster Culture in the Movies