Gangster Squad: not the facts, Jack

The enjoyable but forgettable Gangster Squad is a minor entry in the annals of Los Angeles crime flicks. By Lance Harris.

Mob flick Gangster Squad proudly claims to be inspired by a true story, but its definition of the terms “true” and “story” seems to be particularly loose. There’s not much truth here, and little in the way of story.

No matter. This pulpy, derivative treatment of the battle between the Los Angeles police department and the infamous gangster Mickey Cohen in the late 1940s may live in the shadow of betters such as The Untouchables, Chinatown and LA Confidential but it’s serviceable enough entertainment while it lasts.

Sure, Gangster Squad is frequently dumb with paper-thin plotting and characters, but it’s also racy, stylish, and occasionally funny. Thanks to the efforts of the cast, some chewy hardboiled dialogue, and a few cracking action scenes, Gangster Squad passes a couple of hours pleasantly enough.

Ostensibly based on a nonfiction book by Paul Lieberman, Gangster Squad pits straight-arrow copper-and-war hero Sergeant John O’Mara (played by Josh Brolin) against Cohen as he tries to establish himself as LA’s gangster number one.

O’Mara is joined in his quest by cynical ladies’ man Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling — who else?), streetwise Coleman Harris (Anthony Mackie), crack shot Max Kennard (Robert Patrick), eager greenhorn Navidad Ramirez (Michael Peña) and surveillance expert Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi).

The handpicked team of incorruptible cops strives to tear down the gangster’s empire brick by brick, doing what it takes to hurt Cohen in a tainted city where dirty cops and judges keep him safe from prosecution.

They dole out beatings, burn down buildings and trash warehouses, with only Ribisi’s Keeler pausing to ask whether lawmen should be resorting to the tactics of criminals. No one here wastes time wrestling with their conscience like Kevin Costner’s Eliot Ness in The Untouchables — they’re too busy rushing to the next shootout.

"Back east I was a gangster; out here I'm a god." - Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen

“Back east I was a gangster; out here I’m a god.” – Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen

Like Al Capone, the real Mickey Cohen was eventually pinched for tax evasion. Without spoiling the ending of the film, this is not what happens in Gangster Squad. Perhaps director Ruben Fleischer figured that he wouldn’t copy the ending of Brian de Palma’s classic The Untouchables after imitating nearly everything else about it.

Fleischer keeps it all moving along at quite a brisk pace, though his take on the mob movie is nowhere nearly as successful as his zom-com Zombieland. Part of the problem is that he seems unsure whether he is aiming for the comic book noir of Sin City or the period authenticity of LA Confidential, resulting in a mix of uneven tones. The film also has a glossy digital look that is at odds with its post-World War 2 setting.

But what a cast Fleischer has to work with, even if many of the roles are underwritten. Brolin, as square jawed and cartoonish as Dick Tracy, brings a presence as elemental and imposing as a slab of rock to the film, while Penn’s dead-eyed boxer turned mobster reeks of bloodlust and hunger for power.

Emma Stone as Cohen’s moll and Wooters’s paramour (talk about a conflict of interest) has a velvety voice and a set of curves that wouldn’t be out of place in a 40s noir. Gosling is reliable as the quiet but tough Wooters, a character much in the same mould as the Drive guy. The grizzled Nick Nolte as the police chief who gives the gangster squad their blessing to crack mobster skulls, meanwhile, establishes a powerful presence with just a few quick scenes.  — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media

Share this article

Why TechCentral?

We know that as a prospective advertiser, you are spoilt for choice. Our job is to demonstrate why TechCentral delivers the best return for your advertising spend.

TechCentral is South Africa’s online technology news leader. We don’t say that lightly. We believe we produce the country’s best and most insightful online tech news aimed at industry professionals and those interested in the fast-changing world of technology.

We provide news, reviews and comment, without fear or favour, that is of direct relevance to our fast-expanding audience. Proportionately, we provide the largest local audience of all technology-focused online publishers.

We do not constantly regurgitate press releases to draw in search engine traffic — we believe websites that do so are doing their readers and advertisers a disservice. Nor do we sell “editorial features”, offer advertising “press offices” or rely on online bulletin-board forums of questionable value to advertisers to bolster our traffic.

TechCentral, which is edited and written by award-winning South African journalists, cares about delivering top-quality content to draw in the business and consumer readers that are of most interest to technology advertisers.

We’d like the opportunity to demonstrate the value of directing a portion of your advertising budget to TechCentral, whether your company is in the technology field or not. Numerous opportunities exist for companies interested in reaching our audience of key decision-makers in South Africa’s dynamic information and communications technology sector. We offer packages that will deliver among the best returns on investment available in the online technology news space.

For more information about advertising opportunities, and how your organisation can benefit by publicising itself on TechCentral, please call us on 011-792-0449 during office hours. Or send us an e-mail and ask for our latest rate card and brochure.