This is a film full of blazing guns used by good cops on bad guys and vice versa.Mickey Cohen played by Sean Penn, in a portrayal bursting with the sordid reality of the famous Los Angeles mobster and infused with an intensity and brutishness of his own making, is the reason for a whole lot of trouble in post WWII LA.It’s a world that has previously been documented in a great film, L.A. Confidential directed by Curtis Hanson, based on the famous James Ellroy novel and in Bugsy.
Here Ruben Fleischer(Zombieland) who had a superhuman belief in the cinematic potential of his subject gives us a neo noir gangster flick which uses a nightclub called Slapsy Maxie’s as its focal point.The place is lit by neon lights whose beauty hide the ugliness of a world where Mickey Cohen is the undisputed owner, and which lends the film its visual look, which mixes the dark shadows and wet roads of film noir with saturated colours .We don’t see Cohen signing autographs but he might as well have.In a scene very late in the film we see him adjusting his tie, in the middle of gunfire, he is about to make his escape, and stepping out in public means maintaining a dapper image.
Into this corrupt world Sgt O’Mara(Josh Brolin) bursts in, he can’t help himself, despite the best advise of everyone around him.He acts on his hardwired instinct to fight crime.He is an almost extinct breed in the rotten milieu of this film.His opening act of bravery earns him few fans but gets the attention of the police chief Parker played by Nick Nolte, who has had enough of Cohen.He recruits Brolin into heading a underground hit squad which will dismantle Cohen’s vice empire, right under his feet.Sgt.O’Mara goes to work and assembles a group of swashbuckling cops including the likes of Ryan Gosling as Sgt Jerry Wooters and Giovanni Ribisi who is to be the brains of the group. Mr Gosling’s Sgt.Jerry is too good looking, too hard drinking and too reckless for his own good, he gets into bed with Cohen’s moll, Grace played by Emma Stone. That she will be a handy ally for the squad is clear. If she will meet a gristly end is what we must find out.
As the film begins we see Mickey tie a man up and pull him apart in two pieces by cars tugging in opposite directions.He is out of control and wants more. More for him means becoming the undisputed head of all mob activity on the West coast, the city of LA is his muse, and he must become worthy of being its king.The Gangster Squad gets to work in one exiting caper after the other, each one more violent and gory.
The release of the film was delayed in the aftermath of the Batman movie hall massacre in Aurora since the original version had a bloody climax in a movie hall.The current version was shot again in a hotel. The Sandy Hook tragedy further delayed the film’s release.The real Mickey Cohen was a movie buff and tried to raise money for a film about himself.He died in the 70’s, he would have been very happy to see himself on the big screen played by no less than Sean Penn.The gunfight scenes in the film are quite glamorised, the empty shells glisten like gold as they tumble to the ground in slow motion.Most of the weapons are tommy-guns much like the assault weapons around which the gun “non”debate revolves in America today.
The film creates a slick dark sinister LA inhibited by Raymond Chandlerish characters, as a polished homage to the noir genre its more than a competent. It does not however transcend the genre.This film brings to mind a recent film also set in LA about two cops who fight crime way beyond the call of duty, just as Brolin,Goslin and Co. do here.That film was End of Watch, a very original film, sadly ignored in the Oscar nominations announced yesterday.Mr Fleischer’s film would not have won too many nomination save maybe for the charismatic Ryan Goslin who is emerging as a major star capable of reinventing himself constantly. Josh Brolin gives a solid performance but his character lacks the layers that would add the required mystique to the real life hero, Sgt O’Mare, who seems to be driven beyond his best instincts to bring Mickey Cohen to justice.
The film is a genuine entertainer to its very end, upto and including its end credits set to colour saturated postcards of a LA. Gangster Squad stays close to its material, never forgetting its duty to deliver a blood-soaked cops and robbers film, never mind all the rhetoric over gun violence.It reminds us in a very primal way that we are consumers of violence, the sight of a bad guys brains being blown out will never fail to thrill, the sound of bones crunching will continue to provide visceral pleasure. That’s one of the functions of movies, to enable us live out our dark fantasies while crunching popcorn.They don’t mean to incite us to pick up guns and start shooting people.In a society where there are no loaded machine guns lying around these films offer mindless escape, the second amendment is asking for trouble,plain and simple.
#Gangster Squad releases worldwide today including Singapore