Gangster Squad

Directed by Ruben Fleischer
Starring Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin, Emma Stone & Sean Penn
In UK Cinemas January 10th, 2013

by Ruth Thomson

In Ruben Fleischer’s ‘Gangster Squad’ Josh Brolin is LAPD Sargent John O’Mara – square jawed super handsome virtue personified. At the opposite end of the goodie/baddie spectrum Sean Penn (with so much prosthetic weirdness going on that he looks like a cross between a muppet and something created by Aardmann Animations) does his usual admittedly impressive thing as Mickey Cohen – uber violent crime lord extraordinaire whose reign of terror is destroying the soul of the city of angels. Basically if you work for Cohen, there’s a 99% chance you’re going to come to a sticky and sadistic end. This is thrown straight at us in the opening scene when some poor unfortunate is dispersed with particularly effectively: after all if you have your wrists chained to one car and your ankles to another when they take off at speed in opposite directions, it’s pretty much game over. Fortunately Cohen is the kind of charmer who has a few wolves hanging around to polish off what’s left of you.

Ryan Gosling is an extra piece of eye candy as Sgt Jerry Wooters (seriously?), O’Mara’s cocky but charming wing man (though next to Brolin that jaw line looks even less impressive than usual). Having first hooked up with Emma Stone in 2011’s ‘Crazy Stupid Love’, they’re reunited slightly less convincingly in the sack here adding an extra element of jeopardy as Stone is Grace Faraday – Mickey’s ‘etiquette tutor’ and general bit of stuff. Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) gives Sgt O’Mara the task of taking down Mickey – by any means possible – and so he gathers together a group of assorted LAPD waifs and strays (including Michael Pena and Giovanni Ribisi) and forms the vigilante style ‘gangster squad’.

Everything in Gangster Squad is painted with very broad brush strokes – the characters are mostly stereotypes (did I mention our hero has a pregnant wife?) and there’s a cartoon like quality to the whole thing. When Emma Stone first slinks her way across the dance floor of Cohen’s club/vice headquarters Slapsy Maxie’s there’s a definite whiff of Jessica Rabbit in the air, whilst Josh and co resemble a better dressed version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, killing lots of people for a good cause. It’s very much a Boys Own adventure story brought to life – albeit an extremely violent one.

The release of the film was delayed due to the Batman screening shootings in Colorado last summer and a pivotal shoot out scene had to be re-shot as the original took place in a cinema. Despite altering the scene to take place on the streets of Chinatown it of course doesn’t change the fact that there’s an epic amount of gunfire going on here, and with a scene such as the one where the sharp suited gang stylishly beat numerous ‘baddies’ to death in glorious Technicolor to a jaunty dance track, it’s hard to imagine anything doing a better job on the old glamorizing violence front.

If you can disengage from such lofty issues (it helps if you just shut your eyes anytime Mickey is unhappy with anyone) there’s a lot to enjoy here. Everything and everyone looks terrific and there are some stand out performances – not least (annoyingly predictably) Penn’s snarling portrayal of Rourke whose certainty that he represents progress and that the city is his destiny compels his every nasty move. Despite all the style however, ultimately the film takes the 1950’s Los Angeles goodies (cops) versus baddies (crime lord and cohorts) format and fails to take it into new territory. LA Confidential it ain’t.

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