The year is 1949 and Mickey Coen will stop at nothing to keep his two hands on LA’s underworld and expand the criminal empire along the west coast. He has cops paid and bought for in blood. He will brutally dispose of slippery henchman who cause him aggravation he doesn’t need. He will organize hits on rival mobsters who don’t see eye to eye with his plans and schemes.
The Chief of Police sets up a covert task force known as “The Gangster Squad” to bring down Coen and shatter his reign of terror. Lead by war veteran Sgt John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) the team consists of a talented yet devious collection of figures. This includes his best friend Sgt Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), surveillance expert Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), Detective Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), legendary sharpshooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his Mexican partner Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena).
Loosely based on the book “Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob and the Battle for Los Angeles” this should be a magnificent crime epic, showcasing one of the toughest crime landscapes in all of history. However the story lacks the cinematic guile and genius of James Ellroy’s LA Confidential. The story rejects the emotional resonance of The Untouchables. What is missing in heart and soul the movie makes up for in explosive set pieces and lots and lots of bloody punch-ups. Scrambling from one action sequence to another, brimming with comedic moments, the film plays like a typical Friday night B-movie. We want the good guys to win, we want the bad guys to be annihilated and we will follow these characters into this fantasy of flashy, cartoon shoot em up because its all just a bit of popcorn fun.
…shoot-outs are over-stylized…
The ensemble cast is the main reason to go and see this. All function astutely in somewhat one dimensional and underdeveloped roles. The no holds barred fist-fight between the enigmatic Sgt O’Mara and the ruthless, boxer-turned-crime king Mickey Coen would lack all excitement if not for Josh Brolin’s grizzled, no nonsense style and of course Sean Penn. He gets the best moments and in typical scenery-chewing mode he delivers the best lines with aplomb. My favourite being: “A cop that’s not for sale is like a dog with rabies, you just gotta put him down.” The one reservation I hold against the casting, female characters are thinly written and there is not enough Emma Stone in the 113 minutes running time.
My main criticism, despite being well-paced and efficiently edited, the overuse of lighting and flash is a glaring problem. Most shoot-outs are over-stylized, we are immersed in an over-the-top production design and slow motion sequences are used to no avail. Littered with unremarkable pyrotechnics, which bring no tension, or drama to the sequences they are implemented in, at times Gangster Squad reads like a huge superficial vacuum.
…cliched characters, a poorly conceived plot and some shocking directing decisions…
However, although packed with cliched characters, a poorly conceived plot and some shocking directing decisions Gangster Squad will not disappoint viewers. As a friday night escape it will be easy to overlook the hard-boiled triteness as there is enough comedy, enough action, witty dialogue and Sean Penn, let off the leash, to keep everyone happy.