The year is 1949. The place: Los Angeles. The city firmly in the grip of gangster Mickey Cohen, who has moved from New York to take over the West Coast and all operations relating to drugs, arms dealing and prostitution. With a good number of high-ranking police officers and politicos on his payroll, the few honest cops in the LAPD are finding it well-night impossible to bring Cohen to justice and clean up the town.
Sgt. John O`Mara (Josh Brolin), decorated WWII veteran, refuses to be intimidated by Cohen and his brutal band of thugs. He did not fight for peace and liberty in the war so he could sit back and watch his city being taken over by a power-hungry megalomaniac. With the backing of police commissioner Parker (Nick Nolte), O’Mara is encouraged to put together a small and covert vigilante squad to take down Mickey Cohen – by whatever means necessary. And so the bloodbath begins…
Ostensibly based on true events as per the novel by Paul Lieberman, director Ruben Fleischer’s third feature proves that what he lacks in originality, he makes up for with heaps of visual action. The graphic-novel style of ZOMBIELAND has been used here to full effect, vividly bringing to life post-war LA. Set and costume design are all convincing – as is the acting, as far as it goes. Sean Penn’s portrayal of Mickey Cohen is sufficiently psychotic – although one is constantly aware that it is actually Sean Penn – while Brolin’s champion of justice does his best with screenwriter Will Beal’s saccharine, moralistic dialogue. The romantic element in the form of Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone – their second screen appearance together following CRAZY STUPID LOVE is, truth be told, sizzling.
Although Fleischer’s gangster-thriller offers suspense, drama, action, an over-abundance of carnage, a trace of dark humor and a touch of romance – all the ingredients that would normally go to make a good gangster movie – it falls short of such works as THE UNTOUCHABLES, LA CONFIDENTIAL or other classics of the film noir genre upon which it was obviously modeled. Here, the director sacrifices historical authenticity, character development and logical storyline for maximum action effect. The team of six cops, armed with revolvers, for example, repeatedly provokes a series of senseless public shoot-outs with Cohen’s army, all firing machine guns. After the third repetition and the interminable blood bath, I found myself losing the will to live.
To say that GANGSTER SQUAD is a violent movie would be an understatement. Scheduled to open in the US in September, following the mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, during a midnight screening of THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, a scene of people getting machine-gunned in a movie theater had to be cut and the scene was reshot in Chinatown. I guess we can be thankful that at least it wasn’t relocated to an elementary school in Connecticut.
While I’m at it, here’s an interesting point. People can be mown down in the goriest fashion on-screen: in 3D, close-up, with blood gushing, and guts splattering all over the lens, but when it comes to smoking, it’s a different matter entirely. In this picture set in 1949, everybody had to go outside to smoke! Make sense of that, if you will.
GANGSTER SQUAD (USA 2012); Distributor: Warner Bros: Running time: 113 Mins; Release dates: 11. January (US) / 24. January (Germany); Director: Ruben Fleischer; Writer: Will Beal (Screenplay) / Paul Lieberman (Novel); Cast: Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte, Anthony Mackie; Music: Steve Jablonsky