Gangster Squad, which takes us back to the 40’s/early 50’s in the city of Los Angeles when Mickey Cohan controlled the West Coast crime scene. The movie opens up with a “based on a true story” tag which is an automatic red flag that the writers have taken great liberties with the true actual story. You soon forget about that with the first scene of the film which goes to great lengths to establish the brutality and viciousness of Cohen, and it appears that this movie just might be on the right path. My hope was short-lived.
Sean Penn plays the psychotic Mickey Cohen, and being one of the best actors of our generation, this role is tailor-made for his abilities. Josh Brolin is brought in to play his chief nemesis Sgt. O’Mara, a tough play-by-the-rules uncorrupted Policeman ordered by the mayor of Los Angeles to clean up the city. Ryan Gosling appears as O’Mara’s eventual crime fighting partner, Sgt. Wooters, although his character is a bit more reserved to tackle the Crime Syndicate since he’s tied up with them through his own vices. The beautiful Emma Stone plays Cohen’s red-headed vixen girlfriend, which eventually becomes the love interest of Gosling’s character.
On paper this should be a great cast, kind of like my beloved Los Angeles Lakers, but aside from the Gosling/Stone romance, none of the characters are able to build real screen chemistry. The problem with gangster films is that the bar has been set so high with films where the story and dialogue are heavier than the action itself. With Gangster Squad, you get a movie with action but with very little dialogue for the actors to sink in to. Don’t go looking for a Godfather I & II, Goodfellas, Casino or Donnie Brasco. You can expect a movie more along the lines of Mobsters and The Untouchables (actually it’s too similar to The Untouchables). Anthony Mackie and Michael Pena are brought in as the token minority characters and aren’t given too much to work with either, which is disappointing since Pena really did an outstanding job in his last movie, End of Watch.
If you can’t find anything else at the movies to watch, and you’re really hell-bent on seeing a Mafia genre flick, then by all means check it out. Just expect to see an embellished and glorified tale that has some decent action and dialogue sprinkled in here and there.