Gangster Squad is an absolutely bananas shoot ’em up that seems plenty content being just that. The story, wearing the “based on true events” tag with a permanent wink, couldn’t be simpler and it’s all basically a coat hook for bloody shootouts, of which there are many. Those expecting a mashup of L.A. Confidential and Dick Tracy are going to get a whole lot more of the latter. And Gangster Squad is basically just as cartoony.
The year is 1949 and the place is Los Angeles, California. Mob king Mickey Cohen (Penn) is running the show, what with buying the police force, drug running, prostitution, and viciously killing anyone who screws up or gets in his way. Look no further than the opening scene, in which he has a rival pulled in two buy cars going in opposite directions, for proof of that. Working as one of the few non-corrupt cops in the city, John O’Mara (Brolin), under orders from Chief Parker (a nearly embalmed Nick Nolte), assembles a crack team of cops to bring Cohen down.
The tone of Gangster Squad is campy from minute one. It’s hyper-stylized and glossy, much like director Ruben Fleischer’s previous films (30 Minutes or Less, Zombieland), and Will Beall’s screenplay stretches the aforementioned “true events” to the absolute max on the credibility spectrum. Never digging deeper than the essentials needed to have characters with traits in a movie, Gangster Squad leaves a lot to be desired for anyone wanting to learn anything about Cohen and his empire (this is a man that went to Alcatraz and was nearly attacked by a man with a lead pipe). But as a straight-up, noir-esque action film, it delivers. The production values are excellent, and the frequent violent outbursts are well-filmed and never boring. Beall’s comedic undercurrent frequently works and the actors all seem to be in on the fun. Penn, as Cohen, is really more of a caricature of a gangster than the real deal. His performance manages to be both unintentionally and intentionally hilarious at once. High entertainment this is not, but as a period-driven action picture loosely based on a tumultuous time in Los Angeles’ history, it’s a strangely entertaining and bonkers experience.
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Length: 113 Minutes
Rating: R for strong violence and language.
Theatrical Release: January 11, 2013
Directed by: Ruben Fleischer
Written by: Will Beall. Based upon the book by Paul Lieberman.
Cast: Josh Brolin, Sean Penn, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Michael Pena