“Gangster Squad” is directed by Ruben Fleischer and written by Will Beall. The screenplay is based on a book by Paul Lieberman.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of this film is the clear relish with which the filmmakers tell this particular bit of Los Angeles history and frame it as an homage to the L.A.P.D. then and now. This weakens the film and the story; making it more like a promo, but it’s still my favorite aspect.The story is this: In 1949, Los Angeles was full of corrupt cops and run by a mobster named Mickey Cohen. Police Chief Parker, disgusted with the corruption, encourages a few good cops to form an underground and unofficial crew to tackle Cohen and run him out of town by any means necessary.
The film is full of iconically depraved death scenes because Cohen was apparently a psychopath; not just your garden variety mobster. Aside from that, it’s just exactly what the preview trailer alludes to: a fun ride with lots of bullets, historically accurate style and cigarettes. Nick Nolte plays Chief Parker with wonderful, alarming woodenness and gravel while Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen with vein-throbbing bratty tyranny as only he can.
Josh Brolin as the leader of the good cops is warm and strong and blunt (yum) and Ryan Gosling’s character is, well, Ryan Gosling from his actor’s bin #2, wherein he uses a squirrely voice and hooded eyes as counterpoint to a blonde, leonine exterior. Nothing wrong with it. Emma Stone is sultry and squidgy as Cohen’s girlfriend who falls in love with Gosling’s character and later testifies against Cohen. I’ve not come across an actress who can play “pretty’ as well as she can without being at all, not in the least, pretty or beautiful. She has a lizard face and is, as an old boyfriend used to say, “closet fat.” If you have an issue with that last comment, I suggest you watch the film “House Bunny” and see for yourself. I don’t know if it’s worth losing the 90 minutes out of your life to watch that movie, though. Just take my word for it. How any actress in “House Bunny” could have salvaged a career afterwards is beyond me. Oh wait, none of them did. Except for Ms. Stone, inexplicably. I have no problem with her acting in this film, mind you. She’s got her chops these days. In fact, when I see her in films of note like “The Help,” etc. I can’t help wondering if her roles wouldn’t have gone to Lindsay Lohan instead (who once had real talent) if Lindsay had but made different, better choices early on. If she had, perhaps we wouldn’t be having to look at a lizard and pretend it’s pretty enough to snare Ryan Gosling. I digress.
For goodness sakes don’t go expecting “L.A. Confidential.” The film is good fun, however, if you get past the vulgar darkness of Penn’s portrayal of Cohen, which is tonally (yes, tonally) wrong for the film. It’s good fun if you like slow-motion shoot-em up shots where bullet casings glisten as Christmas trees, people, houses and entire blocks of Chinatown are mowed down to music. That’s fun, right?
On a side note, Los Angelinos will appreciate the mention of Daryl Gates, Chief Parker’s driver, who went on to become a storied, controversial L.A. Police Chief in his own right some thirty-odd years later.