Gangster Squad

Unabashedly juvenile take on The Untouchables, hardly essential viewing but more fun that it has any right to be.

Released in 2013, certified UK-15. Reviewed on 01 Feb 2013 by Scott Morris
Gangster Squad image

There’s a certain level of expectation set by calling a film something like “Gangster Squad”, primarily that it’s probably unwise to go into this thinking that this is a particularly serious drama. Indeed, the level of expectation set by calling this “Gangster Squad” is “borderline parody”, and I suppose it’s largely a matter of your judgement whether that’s a good thing or not. Certainly Gangster Squad plays an awful lot like, as Drew would tweet it, The Untouchables written by thirteen year olds. But I’m rather getting ahead of myself.

Post WWII Los Angeles isn’t quite the idyllic paradise that soldier turned cop John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) was thinking of when smiting the evil HyperCommuFacists of Nazi Germany, what with organised crime being quite so rampant and all. The big cheese around at the time is one Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), ex-Boxer and all round psychopath, who’s not averse to having his East Coast rivals ripped in half as a message, that message being that Mickey Cohen is a psychopath.

Still, with enough of the cops and a senior Judge on Mickey’s payroll, there doesn’t seem to be much to stop him and his gang of thieves, pimps, bookies and cut-throats taking over all of L.A, and he’s got ambitions on the whole Western seaboard. He’s almost beyond the law. So, as history teaches, the only way to ignore all this pesky “lawful arrest” nonsense is to declare a War on Crime, and round up a good ‘ol fashioned band of vigilantes. In this instance, O'Mara is tasked by Police Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to recruit a gang of like-minded cops who are not on the take, and want to reclaim the town for the forces of, well, let’s call them good. Close enough.

Joining Team Extra-Judicial are ex-intelligence guy Officer Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribese), beat cop looking to clean up his hood Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), veteran cop and apparently a cowboy Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) and his barely believably named junior partner Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and after some arm twisting, Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who’s somewhere between a lounge lizard and a disillusioned anti-hero. It’s only his somewhat contrived relationship with Cohen’s moll Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), that has him finally throw his hat in the ring.

After a disastrous start, the squad start hitting up various dens of inequity which soon attracts the attention of Mickey, who unsurprisingly doesn't take this lying down. If he wants a war, he's got a war, et cetera. A great deal of shooting ensues.

Now, on first glance Gangster Squad at least looks like a serious period crime flick, but it's really anything but serious. The most obvious tell comes from Sean Penn, who leaves no piece of scenery unchewed as the frothingly nuts Cohen, who in traditional unstable boss style is just about as dangerous to his henchmen as he is to the coppers opposing him. Brolin's grizzled veteran act comes across as amazingly low key in comparison, but even he's not afraid to harness the full power of cliché, largely in place of any meaningful character development.

Indeed all of the cast of Gangster Squad play so closely to sterotypes that you can probably predict the entirety of the film without going to the trouble of actually seeing it. This is fortunate, because I can’t exactly recommend you rush out and see it. It's not, I hasten to add, that I didn't enjoy watching Gangster Squad, or even that it's a particularly badly made film. It's just that it screams out B-movie from every frame of its being.

That certainly doesn't stop it being a decent amount of fun, as long as you're amenable to it's somewhat cartoonish, Boy's Own, over-the-top portrayal of "real life events" - it's based on a true story, but one written in crayon. At its worst, it's a really stupid film, and at its best, it's a guilty pleasure.

Most other times of the year I'd give it a guarded recommendation, with the above caveats in mind. However at the moment, Django Unchained scratches exactly the same itches at the same time as being a far better film, so it's difficult to direct anyone in Gangster Squad's direction. Perhaps one to catch up with on the home formats, but not at the top of your priority lists.

Ruben Fleischer
Cast list:
Josh Brolin (John O'Mara)
Sean Penn (Mickey Cohen)
Giovanni Ribese (Conway Keeler)
Robert Patrick (Max Kennard)
Michael Pena (Navidad Ramirez)
Ryan Gosling (Jerry Wooters)
Emma Stone (Grace Faraday)