Today: July 18, 2024

Gangster Squad

Very, very loosely inspired by a true story, in much the same way as a unicorn is inspired by a horse, Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad is a flashy, nostalgic, tommy gun rat-a-tatting tale of rogue L.A. cops taking on a vicious, cartoon mobster

Very, very
loosely inspired by a true story, in much the same way as a unicorn is inspired
by a horse, Zombieland director Ruben Fleischer’s Gangster Squad is a flashy,
nostalgic, tommy gun rat-a-tatting tale of rogue L.A. cops taking on a vicious,
cartoon mobster
that plays like a Greatest
Hits
compilation of nostalgic rogue cop movies as it borrows liberally from
the likes of Mulholland Falls, L.A. Confidential and The Untouchables.

Los Angeles, 1949: ruthless, psychotic New York gangster
Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) rules the
City of Angels with an iron fist, paying dirty cops and corrupt officials to
look the other way as he builds an empire founded on drugs, vice, prostitution
and violence.

With his hands legally tied and a police force on the take,
Police Chief William Parker (human/grizzly bear hybrid Nick Nolte) recruits a small team of honest cops to challenge
Cohen’s might. Led by square-jawed
WW2 veteran John O’Mara (Nick Nolte impersonator Josh Brolin) and laid-back pretty-boy Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), the Gangster Squad
aren’t going to be making arrests; they’re going to war, smashing Mickey’s
operations, raiding his clubs and casinos, destroying his drugs and money. But Mickey’s not going down without a
fight…

Written by former L.A. homicide detective and novelist Will Beall (author of the ferocious L.A. Rex), the James Ellroy-flavoured Gangster
Squad
is brash, flash, B-movie fun that plays so fast and loose with the
facts that as you’re reading this defence attorneys across Los Angeles are
probably trying to overturn every conviction Beall ever secured. But truth, like beauty, is in the eye
of the beholder; as Carleton Young’s
jaded newsman tells James Stewart in
John Ford’s classic Western The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: “This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print
the legend.” And Gangster Squad is most definitely the
legend with its posse of gunslinging cops shooting it out with tommy gun-toting
gangsters on the streets of post-war L.A. while winning the hearts of dangerous
dames who look like Emma Stone.

The performances for the most part are solid and fun. Josh Brolin tries, and fails, to
out-gruff Nick Nolte (just!) and their scenes together are a little like a David Attenborough nature documentary,
two irascible bears circling each other warily while Baby Goose is as
effortlessly cool as ever as the suave slacker cop Jerry Wooters. Anthony Mackie, Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi provide strong support in their underwritten roles
as, respectively, the black one, the Mexican one and the doomed one while
former T-1000 Robert Patrick shines
as the grizzled old gunslinger one.
Mireille Enos is good in the
clichéd role of Brolin’s worried, heavily pregnant missus while Emma Stone was born to play a ‘40s
gangster moll. The role fits her
like the slinky evening gowns she wears as she rekindles the electric chemistry
she shared with Baby Goose in Crazy,
Stupid, Love
playing the femme fatale Gosling’s cop falls for.

The film’s biggest bum note however comes in the shape of a
cartoonish, scenery-chewing Sean Penn
whose Mickey Cohen is a less subtle, less believable version of Al Pacino’s Big Boy Caprice from 1990’s
Dick Tracy. Hidden beneath prosthetics and spitting
lines that would embarrass Schwarzenegger, Penn’s panto villain is laughably
evil, cackling while ordering men burned alive, torn limb from limb or drilled
to death. Which is a shame because
while he was undoubtedly a ruthless killer, the real Mickey Cohen was a charming,
funny, dapper, little gent loved by the newspapers (and L.A.’s scandal hungry
public!) who looked more like Danny De Vito than the troll Penn gives us.

But Gangster Squad
isn’t about the real, it’s about the myth and Fleischer gives us a lurid, pulpy,
action-packed Hollywood myth of good cops and bad guys that’s far more
entertaining than it has a right to be.

David Watson

David Watson is a screenwriter, journalist and 'manny' who, depending on time of day and alcohol intake could be described as a likeable misanthrope or a carnaptious bampot. He loves about 96% of you but there's at least 4% he'd definitely eat in the event of a plane crash. Email: david.watson@filmjuice.com

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