Gangster Squad

Art & Culture

First of all, there was Chinatown. Then there was The Untouchables. In 1996 came Mulholland Falls (don’t worry, no one else has heard of it, either). L. A. Confidential came next. Followed soon after by The Black Dahlia. And now there is Gangster Squad, Hollywood’s latest movie about police corruption in L.A. in the 1940s. It is not the worst of the bunch, but it’s along way from being the best.

The first question to ask is, why bother making this film? It seems to have very little basis in historical fact, it is not a star vehicle, and is not even very good. Who exactly is going to want to see it Having done so myself, I can’t truthfully recommend it to you.
OK, so here’s the plot. Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), a Chicago mobster, is taking over Los Angeles with a combination of violence and corruption. He seems unstoppable. Everyone is either afraid of him or owned by him. Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is an honest hard working tough cop who was previously a war hero. Clearly the two are destined to go head to head. On his side, O’Mara has the backing of Chief of Police Nick Nolte, and small bunch of fellow policemen willing to fight fire with fire. Cohen has everyone else. Guess who wins?
The shadow of The Untouchables hangs over this film, as does that of L.A. Confidential. This seems to be intentional on the part of the film makers, which is strange given that Gangster Squad is much less fun than the Costner flick, and a lot less intelligent than the Russell Crowe movie. It’s always a mistake to invite comparisons that are going to make you look foolish.
The problem is as ever with the script, but they don’t stop there. Josh Brolin has the right face for the role, craggy, decent and tough, but the guy has zero charisma, which is problematic when he’s the star. Which may explain the presence of Ryan Gosling as his right hand man, Jerry Wooters, who smokes incessantly, likes the ladies, but is converted to the cause of righteousness by the random killing of a shoeshine boy. Trouble is, he’s too cool, too dapper, and too self concscious to convince us. Emma Stone is his love interest who is also connected to Cohen, but she is heavily coated in 40s makeup and costumes, that it’s hard for her appealing personality to remain visible. And while Penn is appropriately unpleasant as Cohen, he too feels too much.
In fact the whole film has either too much or too little of everything. The settings, costumes and period details are excessive, and there’s way too much shooting. The characters are too predictable, and the plot is too hackneyed. The music is too intrusive, the twist too obvious, and the ending is too flatfooted. It’s not a bad film, and you can sit through it without falling asleep or losing the will to live, but it just doesn’t have anything going for it. No wit, originality or surprises. And as I say, it seems to bear no relation to what actually happened, which is even odder.
Remember, I see films so that you don’t have to, and this is a film you definitely don’t have to see.

Phil Raby

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