Friday, June 7, 2013

Review: "Gangster Squad" Ain't Wangsta

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 38 (of 2013) by Leroy Douresseaux

Gangster Squad (2013)
Running time: 113 minutes; MPAA – R for strong violence and language
DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer
WRITER: Will Beall (based on the book Gangster Squad by Paul Lieberman)
PRODUCERS: Dan Lin, Kevin McCormick, and Michael Tadross
EDITORS: Alan Baumgarten and James Herbert
COMPOSER: Steve Jablonsky


Starring: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, Robert Patrick, Nick Nolte, Sullivan Stapleton, Holt McCallany, Mireille Enos, Austin Abrams, and Jon Polito

Gangster Squad is a 2013 action and crime film from director Ruben Fleischer. The film is based on Paul Lieberman’s 2012 book, Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles. Gangster Squad the movie follows a secret crew of police officers trying to end mob king Mickey Cohen’s reign over Los Angeles.

The reality is that Gangster Squad the movie is mostly fictional. It takes the Los Angeles Police Department’s real “Gangster Squad unit” and its efforts to protect the city from Mickey Cohen and his gang in the 1940s and 50s and turns it into a fanciful tale of two-fisted cops and one crazy mutha of gangster. But Gangster Squad is a hugely entertaining fanciful tale of cops and robbers.

Gangster Squad opens in Los Angeles, 1949. In post-World War II L.A., gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is the most powerful figure in the California criminal underworld. In fact, Cohen does not intend on letting anyone from “back east,” especially Chicago, interfere with his bid to expand his criminal enterprise across the Western United States.

In the Los Angeles Police Department, Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) wants to end Cohen’s influence over the city, which extends into the police department, the courts, and City Hall. Parker personally chooses Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), a WWII veteran with a special operations background, to wage guerilla warfare on Cohen. With the help of his reluctant wife, Connie (Mireille Enos), O’Mara recruits fellow officers into his secret squad.

They choose the hard-headed African-American detective, Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie); wire-tap expert, Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi); and legendary gangster-killer and cowboy-type, Max Kennard (Robert Patrick). Kennard’s Latino partner, Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña), is not initially picked, but he manages to bargain his way into the squad.

Fellow WWII vet, Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), turns down O’Mara’s offer, and focuses his attention on having an affair with Mickey Cohen’s girlfriend, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). After he witnesses Cohen’s ruthlessness, Wooters joins O’Mara’s “Gangster Squad,” but these lawmen have no idea how truly sadistic Cohen can be when it comes to protecting his empire.

Gangster Squad has Oscar-nomination quality cinematography, art direction-set decoration, costume design, and perhaps, even sound editing. This movie’s cops vs. gangsters story is familiar material and, to some extent, is just retread. But Gangster Squad’s retread sure is entertaining. Somehow, cast, story, and action come together, and it is a combination that is a recognizable, yet tasty cinematic dish.

I rented Gangster Squad through Netflix. Normally, I watch my movie rentals over two days (or maybe even three). However, I couldn’t stop watching this mesmerizing crime/action movie. Gangster Squad is like a cool, color and colorful version of the old television series, “The Untouchables” (1959 to 1963 on ABC).

The performances are good. Sean Penn and Josh Brolin each do interesting takes on deranged, with Nick Nolte throwing in a cup of crazy, here and there. Contrary to what you may have read elsewhere, there is indeed excellent chemistry between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in this film. Actually, the supporting characters played by Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi, and Robert Patrick are the most interesting in the movie. I think they are what keep Gangster Squad from being just another wanna-be-great, gangster period film.

Inevitably, Gangster Squad will end up on cable television, where it will receive countless repeat plays. I’ll be watching quite a few of those repeats.

7 of 10

Friday, June 07, 2013

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