SEAN PENN JOSH BROLIN RYAN GOSLING EMMA STONE NICK NOLTE ANTHONY MACKIE GIOVANNI RIBISI ROBERT PATRICK MICHAEL PENA
Talk about a film in the wrong place at the wrong time; Warner Brothers canceled the September release of Gangster Squad and pulled the trailer after the Colorado massacre because Gangster Squad originally had a scene where mobsters shot through a movie screen at a theater. The film had to undergo a script re-write as well as re-shoots and is now the first big release of 2013. Usually when a film is delayed for some reason, it’s a bad sign. Gangster Squad never sets out to be L.A. Confidential or a retro version of The Departed; it’s a big budget mobster flick with the biggest of relevant stars.
It’s 1949 in Hollywoodland, but the focus isn’t on the movies; it’s on the city being overrun with crime and the police being bought by the meanest guy in the nation. Mickey Cohen (Penn) says he loves Los Angeles and he wants to own it all. “A cop not for sale is like a dog with rabies, you just gotta’ put him down,” Cohen says when he realizes getting rid of Sgt. John O’Mara (Brolin) isn’t going to be so easy. A family man who wants to make the city of angels safe for his child is assigned to assemble a squad off the books to get rid of Cohen and his gang, who intend to implement a system to get his hands on all the money coming through the west coast.
Inspired by the true story, Gangster Squad takes a very high contrast look at Los Angeles during a very deadly hour. The production design on this film is reminiscent of The Aviator, especially during the club scenes, and Gosling and Stone model superb vintage duds. The contrast look of the film is amplified by the layers of makeup everyone is caked in, especially Penn with his prosthetics making his mug similar to Cohen’s square face. In the opening minutes of the film we see two things: one, a man is ripped apart by two vehicles, foreshadowing the level of violence; second, we see Brolin better than the low throttle characters he typically plays.
Much of the suspense depends on how ruthless and evil Penn can make Cohen, and he does a pretty great job. This isn’t the first time Penn has played a great antagonist, but he is certainly the kind of actor to get inside evil. Gosling’s high pitched voice is pretty funny, but his flashy cop character provides nearly the only comedy to the film. This is Brolin’s film, however. He is the hero who will come out on top or die trying. I thought the best thing about the entire movie was the casting; Patrick (Terminator 2) in an appropriately stereotypical role and Pena (End of Watch) as his trusty Mexican sidekick. The bullets are loud and the violence strong, but that’s what you want in a film like this.
Final Thought – Never reaches that iconic level but it’s satisfying due to the plethora of famous faces.
Grade B- By: Dustin Chase
Dr. Donna Copeland’s
As observed by a couple of characters, it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the police squad from the gangsters in this film; except, of course, Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen, must come off as an ultra sadist to justify to the audience the squad’s brutality. In this vein, the title Gangster Squad is very apt; is the squad to go after gangsters or are they like a vigilante group that resembles gangsters?
I actually found it to be both funny and exciting to watch, and the actors are superb. Sean Penn continues to amaze with his ability to take on so many personas. Compare his Mickey Cohen to that of Cheyenne in the recent film, This Must be the Place, and you’ll see what I mean. Similarly, it was hard to recognize Ryan Gosling, especially in the beginning when his voice was high pitched and he was a bit silly. All the other main characters played by Josh Brolin, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick, Michael Pena, and Anthony Mackie are really fine as well.
Gangster Squad is based on Paul Lieberman’s book about a real squad in the L.A.P.D. whose mission was to erode the growing power of crime boss Mickey Cohen, who had aspirations of reaping all profits for gambling, nightclubs, and prostitution throughout the western states of the country. Lieberman, who is executive producer of the movie, spent ten years gathering data and conducting interviews for his book about the “gangster squad”, which was active in post World War II Los Angeles when Mickey Cohen had control of a large part of the criminal mobster organization.
My reservations about the film are related to its implicit approval of vigilante groups. Although the squad in the film is not made up of lay people, they did seem to have full rein, even for murder. It strikes me as odd that these practices are cheered on so openly by audiences, who seem unaware of the infractions on human rights written in our Constitution, such as the guarantee of trial by jury after arrest. The officers in this story have good intentions; however, what differentiates them from officers who feel entitled to beat and maim their prisoners? Do the ends justify the means in Gangster Squad?