Will it win any awards for 2013? Well, no. But “Gangster Squad,” a shoot-’em-up nod to pulp thrillers and noir-ish films from yesteryear, will provide solid entertainment for fans of crime dramas and Ruben Fleischer, who also helmed “30 Minutes or Less” and “Zombieland.”
Sean Penn plays Mickey Cohen, the real-life mobster whose brutal leadership and loyal following of goons and cops on the take helped him establish a stronghold in Los Angeles during the 1940s. The show is set in 1949, when Cohen’s criminal empire included drug dealing and sex trafficking.
But not every police officer will take payoffs to become one of Cohen’s minions. Six law enforcement officials go undercover to become his worst nightmare. They include Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin), who has the blessings of Chief Parker (Nick Nolte) to hand-pick his troops for the assignment. He chooses another World War II veteran, Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), sharpshooter Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), a trusted, up-and-coming cop named Navidad Ramirez (Michael Pena) and Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), who is skilled in the art of wiretapping.
O’Mara is at the center of the film, and we learn more about him than we do his colleagues. His wife (Mireille Enos), who begs him to “stop fighting” — the war is over, after all — is a savvy partner in his quest to find the perfect group to take down Cohen.
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Although the movie says it was “inspired” by actual events, the script is far from historically accurate. It does have some legitimate true touches, though, depicting Cohen with his beloved dog and using the real names of some of the squad members.
I love the look of the movie, with its sets on the streets, in an upper-crust nightclub and its costumes lending an appealing atmosphere and mood. Also fun is the romance between Cohen’s girlfriend (Emma Stone) and the devil-may-care Wooters. Car chases and gangland slayings add to the script that may be lacking in character development but certainly keeps things moving along.
This is the same kind of movie as “The Untouchables” and “L.A. Confidential,” but it isn’t nearly as smart or sophisticated. This isn’t cerebral entertainment, to be sure, but it’s enjoyable, and it ranks far above many other offerings in what has become a dumping ground of January junk.