Director: Ruben Fleischer
Writer(s): Will Beall, Paul Lieberman
Starring: Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Josh Brolin, Nick Nolte, Giovanni Ribisi
Rated R for strong violence and language
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars
Synopsis from Amazon:
Los Angeles, 1949. Ruthless, Brooklyn-born mob king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) runs the show in this town, reaping the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes and - if he has his way - every wire bet placed west of Chicago. And he does it all with the protection of not only his own paid goons, but also the police and the politicians who are under his control. It's enough to intimidate even the bravest, street-hardened cop - except, perhaps, for the small, secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohen's world apart.
Gangster Squad was widely panned by critics when the movie hit theaters in January 2013. So much so, that I decided to wait until the movie came out on DVD to watch it (which isn't unusual-I wait for most movies to come out on DVD before watching them, but I really had debated going to the theater for this one). I think my significantly lowered expectations for this movie actually helped me enjoy it more than I would have otherwise. This movie was one of my most highly anticipated movies. I absolutely adore Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. Both are stand-out, young actors who choose great roles, seem to have a great sense of humor, and frankly, are fun to look at. Add in the often overlooked Giovanni Ribisi, plus Sean Penn and Josh Brolin and you have one of my dream casts. I'm not going to pretend that Gangster Squad is a good movie, honestly, it really isn't, but it was an alright movie and a perfectly pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.
The movie starts with Sgt. John O'Mara (Brolin) barging into one of Mickey Cohen's "places" in order to rescue some straight-off-the-bus blonde ingenue from three of Cohen's thugs. He is publicly chastised for the event, but privately the police chief, Parker (Nolte), is impressed with the straight and narrow O'Mara and secretly puts him in charge of getting Mickey Cohen out of town. Almost all of the other public officials have been bought and are run by Cohen from the police to the judges, but there are still a few police officers out there who believe their job is to protect and serve--not to collect a paycheck from Cohen and turn a blind eye to his trying to take over the entire West Coast.
O'Mara's wife (Mireille Enos) helps hand-pick the rest of the "gangster squad" that will not only help O'Mara take Cohen down, but who she believes will help keep her husband safe. I'm not familiar with Enos, but I really liked her in this role. She was one of my favorite parts of the movie. Her relationship with Bolin helped to humanize the otherwise cardboard role.
The team that is assembled includes: Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Gosling), Ribisi as the "smart" one who can do things like wire-tapping, Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie) (who I really liked in The Adjustment Bureau) as the black guy who uses a knife, Robert Patrick (Robert Patrick) the grizzled six-shooter, and his side-kick, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña). Besides, Gosling, none of these guys really have much to do besides shoot guns and beat people up. We know that Ribisi has a wife and son, but we never see the other members at home and don't know what their lives outside of the squad is like.
Gosling's character is also fairly shallow. He is involved with Grace Faraday (Stone), who moonlights as Cohen's gal. We see the two meet at a bar and then suddenly they are a couple. It isn't really explained and it's obviously a bad idea. Grace sees first hand how bad Cohen is, so it doesn't make sense for her to start messing around with another guy behind his back--even if he does look like Gosling. Because the details of their "love" is hurried and brushed-over, I found it fairly unbelievable. It was fun to see Stone in this type of role, though. She almost always plays "quirky" or "girl-next-door", but this role is straight up bomb-shell with Stone conjuring up old screen sirens like Lauren Bacall or Veronica Lake.
After the squad is assembled, they start with trying to raid one of Cohen's casinos. A job that goes comically bad, leaving two of them locked up in Burbank and the rest trying to bust them out. From there, though, the movie turns into scene after scene of gun and fist fighting. The same tired Hollywood action scenes are re-hashed again and again and because you don't really "know" any of the characters it's hard to muster any fear or sympathy for them.
Overall, I found Gangster Squad to be fine for what it is. Sometimes I need to shut off my brain and watch a pulpy action flick. Stylistically, I really enjoyed the scenery, the outfits, and the camera work. The colors were very slick and vibrant--giving the movie an almost comic book feel. It would be easy to try to compare this with LA Confidential, but Gangster Squad doesn't come even close to having the same kind of heart or depth. I'm not going to discuss how "real" this movie is, because frankly I don't really know all that much about Mickey Cohen beyond the fact that he was one of the major gangsters. It's supposedly "based on actual events", but I think we all know to take that phrase with a grain of salt when it comes to Hollywood. Since Cohen was jailed for tax evasion, I'm going to say, "not very" on the realness scale. I do think this movie is worth renting, especially if you have Netflix or a library that carries new releases. Gosling and Stone are still fun to look at, if nothing else.