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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Gangster Squad | Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for
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Gangster Squad | Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone, Nick Nolte | Review


Aptly named and beautifully shot, Gangster Squad is the type of film that you want to root for but ultimately can’t. Full of style, but little substance, the film starts out promisingly enough, capturing the feel of 1949 Los Angeles, but then it disintegrates into an overly jealous shoot-‘em-up tale that’s more cartoon than caper.

Causing trouble in the City of Angels is mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) who has got law enforcement and judges in his pocket, as they say, paid off in drug and prostitution profits. Crossing Cohen guarantees being killed in very inventive, horrific ways.

Opposing Cohen are good guys in a near-vigilante-like unit, the self-proclaimed Gangster Squad, comprised of Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) Officer Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) Officer Max Kennard (Robert Patrick) tech expert/Officer Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi) and Officer Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie).

O’Mara’s got an expectant wife Connie (Mireille Enos) who is the “good woman behind the man.” Wooters has taken a liking to Cohen’s girlfriend, Grace Faraday (Emma Stone) because the deck needs to be stacked against the squad even more than she is, apparently. The attraction seems to be only skin-deep with these two; it is utterly incomprehensible between Cohen and Faraday.

The squad is up against more than Cohen; most of their superiors are paid off by the corrupt crook, so nabbing him is career (and life) threatening. Only Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) stands with the squad and allows them to fulfill their wire tapping, gun blazing exploits against the cruel, cocky mobster.  Look for lots of overcoats, machine guns and stylish hats.

Sean Penn’s Cohen is loathsome, reptilian, and cartoonish in his sadistic, snarling persona, almost laughably murderous. The charismatic Brolin and Gosling fare much better as honest cops although Gosling and Stone’s heatless romance seems forced and unnecessary.  Mireille Enos brief scenes provide the only authentic emotion that leaps off of the screen the way no flying bullets (however many thousand) can mimic.

Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) evokes the era admirably, but presses full throttle on the action, producing a comic-book sensibility more suitable to adolescent boys than the audience at large. Some slo-mo shots are effective, as are those lit by stop-motion gunfire; other bullet-filled sequences are hard on the ears and go on much too long, especially when characters fires two machine guns at once, killing no one but damaging all manner of furniture. C’mon, already.

Screenwriter Will Beall adapted his script from former Los Angeles Times reporter Paul Lieberman's book, Gangster Squad: Covert Cops, the Mob, and the Battle for Los Angeles. Even with eyewitness reports, facts become sensationalized for the screen. The real-life Cohen was charming and rarely did his own dirty deeds, preferring his goons to handle “issues” for him while he romanced strippers enticed by his endless supply of U.S. currency.  He himself was overweight and bald. What a catch.

See it if you must for the production design (Maher Ahmad) not for the facts, because you’ll find that Gangster Squad is more chronic-kill than chronicle.


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