Warner Bros. Pictures presents Gangster Squad, the story about a secret undercover LAPD unit going after one of the most notorious mob bosses of all time, Mickey Cohen. Is this an intriguing film noir style of mobster flicks, or should it be wearing concrete shoes and swimmin’ with the fishes?
In 1946, Brooklyn born, ex-boxer Mickey Cohen is the top crime boss in Los Angeles. He controls all the drugs, gambling and prostitution in the state, but not with the approval of the Chicago mob families. Cohen’s need for power is only overshadowed by his brutality. No one crosses Cohen, not even the police, politicians, or judicial system. If anyone gets in his way or tampers with his organization, they are quickly made an example of and the message is instantly sent.
This is also a time in America when men were returning home from serving in the war to live a honest life and start families. One such man is LAPD Sergeant John O’Mara. He is a homicide detective who lives a humble life with his pregnant wife. He’s the type of man who questions why he even fought for freedom in the war when America is being overrun and controlled by crime lords. The problem with O’Mara is that he is a dying breed of honest cop. Most are content to turn a blind eye on the situation and live another day.
One cop that is really fed up with the corruption is Police Chief Parker. He knows that few good cops exist so he recruits O’Mara to do what a normal cop can’t, and that’s start an all out war to dismantle Cohen’s organization. There are no badges or medals, no ceremonies or accommodations. This is a group of guys that are completely off the books and will not be protected by the LAPD if they get into trouble. O’Mara accepts the assignment and begins to recruit a group of rag tag officers, not in it for the glory, but to make Los Angeles a place to raise their families and take back their beloved city. This group of LA’s finest affectionately call themselves the Gangster Squad.
I’ve always been a fan of Film Noir gangster movies like L.A. Confidential, The Untouchables and Hollywoodland. I was even a big fan of Rockstar’s open-world video game, LA Noir about a detective who rises up the ranks of the LAPD . Let’s face it, who doesn’t love cops and robbers? We are all sympathetic to the honest cop trying to take on the juggernaut of gangsters. Warner Brothers’ Gangster Squad fits into the film noir genre splendidly with its art deco set design, tinsel town Hollywood soundtrack, classic cars, Thompson machine guns and fedoras. The men are sharp dressing quick talkers who carry a big stick. The women are the dames to die for.
What I really liked about Gangster Squad seemed to be the authenticity to the subject matter. I’m always amazed how filmmakers recreate locations of the past. Did they redress modern building with neon lights and 1940’s Cadillacs? Or was this all filmed on a backlot? Either way, the true stars of the show are the sets and locations. If the movie had Smell-O-Vision, it would smell of cigarettes and perfume in the same way AMC’s Mad Men reeks of authenticity. The score by composer, Steve Jablonsky also adds to the film noir feeling of the film. Director, Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland/30 Minutes or Less), also seemed to do a good job with telling the story of the battle against Mickey Cohen and getting his ensemble cast to work well together as they all complimented each other performances instead of outshining one another.
The cast is lead by Josh Brolin as SGT John O’Mara. He just returned from serving his country in World War II. He is no nonsense, straight edge, and unfortunately thinks of his job at times over his personal safety, which often upsets his pregnant wife. Brolin was perfectly cast to be the leader. O’Mara’s right hand man is SGT Jerry Wooters portrayed by Ryan Gosling. He’s a bit of a ladies man and a drunk, but he quickly sobers up after the loss of a good friend and finding the love of an “honest” woman. That gal is Grace Faraday, played by Emma Stone. The two had great chemistry together as they did in 2011’s romantic comedy Crazy, Stupid, Love. I could see why they were cast to work again with each other. I thought Emma Stone was amazingly beautiful, but then again, I am a sucker for a gorgeous redhead. Gosling’s performance was great, but at times I felt like he was slightly cartoony. I think his character would have been better if he was a little more serious like in his role in Drive. The bad guy of the film is Mickey Cohen portrayed by Sean Penn. While not as brilliant of a performance as Robert DeNiro’s Al Capone in The Untouchables, he was still ruthless and viscious. He was an exceptional antagonist to the undercover squad.
The rest of the Gangster Squad is comprised by Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie and Michael Peña. Patrick plays Max Kennard, a hero of a cop straight from the pages of a comic book with Wild Bill Hikock gunslinger skills. Ribisi plays Conwell Keeler, the nerdy brains of the group. He creates the gadgets to help in the fight against crime. Mackie is Coleman Harris. He is the black street cop who patrols the ghettos of LA. He just lost a family member to a heroine overdose, so he wants to stop the flow of drugs in his neighborhood. My favorite performance is by Michael Peña who plays Navidad Ramirez. He sometimes goes by his nickname, “Christmas.” He is the funny Hispanic officer of the group. I am a huge fan of Michael Peña from his work on FX’s The Shield, Tower Heist and last year’s End of Watch. He always brings a certain level of humor and seriousness to his performance that I have really grown to love. (Editor’s Note: If you haven’t seen End of Watch we strongly recommend it! It’s a brutally honest look into the lives of modern day LAPD police officers that’s 100% accurate. )
But with all the positives of the movie, it did however lack in a few aspects, mainly that it completely lost some steam towards the beginning of the third act. The beginning started extremely brutal and the film didn’t shy away from blood and guts. There is a scene where Mickey Cohen orders a man to be torn in two as he is chained to two cars’ bumpers. You see the man ripped to pieces and then fed to wolves in order to intimidate a fellow gangster into sending a message back to Chicago. That’s the opening scene, but as the film progressed, it just seemed to lose momentum and finished with a slightly anti-climatic ending. Mickey Cohen toward the end also seemed to a bit of a ridiculous caricature of a gangster. I think a problem of the film, may not have been the film’s fault. Originally the film was set for a September launch, but with the tragic shooting in Aurora during the midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises, the film was pulled and certain scenes were omitted and others were reshot. One notable scene was a theater shooting scene which was supposed to be the film’s ending. If you saw the trailer before it was pulled by Warner Bros., it showed four mobsters shooting into a crowded theater. While I applaud Warner Bros. for trying to be responsible in response to the horrific events of Aurora, CO, it may have also hurt the film. But for that reason, I do not fault the filmmakers. I hope that maybe there will be an extended version when the movie hits the home video market.
I really liked Gangster Squad. It was brutal and bloody, but also contained well placed humor and heart. The ensemble cast was fantastic in their specialized roles, and the story was not boring. I definitely recommend checking out the film when it hits theaters this weekend. It may not be a film you buy on Blu-ray to add you your personal libraries, but I feel it’s a great addition to the Film Noir genre of modern cinema.
In Theaters: January 11, 2013
Runtime: 1 hour 53 minutes
Rating: R (for strong violence and language)
Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte, Robert Patrick, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, Anthony Mackie, Emma Stone, Sean Penn
Genre: Adaptation, Crime, Drama
Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures
Official Site: http://www.gangstersquadmovie.com