â€œIt's a war for the soul of Los Angelesâ€, grizzled police chief Parker (Nick Nolte) growls to Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) and though it may sound insanely cheesy, the conviction put into the line almost sells you the hypocrisy of the film that almost puts all the blame on the ills of Los Angeles on a gangster, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). As if without Cohen, Los Angeles would have been paradise on earth, far from it if you know the history of the place. But 'Gangster Squad' is a movie like that, filled to the brim with hypocrisy with scenes, characters and lines that seemed to be ripped straight from the pages of a pulpy crime novel; except this carries the tag of â€œInspired from true eventsâ€ and is actually based on a book that chronicles these â€œtrue eventsâ€.
The year is 1949 and a Jewish mobster out of Chicago, Mickey Cohen is calling the shots in Los Angeles. His empire of decadence goes mostly unchallenged but Chief Parker says enough is enough and sanctions World War II veteran Sgt. John O'Mara to form his own vigilante squad that will exist off the official records and operate with the sole purpose of driving Mickey Cohen out of Los Angeles. John's very pregnant wife is afraid for her husband's safety and decides to help him pick a squad that is unique and will assuage her fears of John's safety. A handy sharp-shooter who's a relic of the wild west, Max (Robert Patrick), an African-American patrolmen who's handy with a switchblade, Coleman (Anthony Mackie), a surveillance expert, Convay (Giovanni Ribisi), an eager Mexican greenhorn, Navidad (Michael Pena) are all handpicked. The only missing link is Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) who's after his initial reluctance joins the team later. They start picking on Cohen's business in hopes of driving him away. In the meantime Cohen is involved in a turf war of his own with the mob bosses in Chicago. How the team goes head to head and toe to toe with a brawler like Cohen and his gang of thugs forms the crux of the tale.
The production and design on the movie is near flawless. The bygone eras are created with such exuberance and liveliness that's it difficult not to be enamoured by it all. However not all the actors exude mannerisms from that time, most seem far more suited to today's credo. The slick camera work doesn't fail the movie nor does the background score, which is quite captivating in its oddity at times. The movie contains some very cheesy lines uttered by such conviction and befitting the scenes there spoken in that you'd think no less of them than great quotes.
The thing that nearly sinks the movie is the half-baked screen play that fails to flesh out the characters, enforce themes it hints at and ultimately turns what could have been a movie of its own into a pale imitation of Brian De Palma's 'The Untouchables'. All the requisite elements that were there are here, right down to the tick. The brutality of the squad and it's tactics is only spoken of but you don't really see the ugly side since everything is made so slickly that no attempt is made to provide the other side of the tale. It's a very clear good Vs bad scenario and the lines are drawn between the two with great distinction.
Sean Penn chews the scenery be it him condemning his men to a fiery death, boxing or as simple as choosing which fork to use with his meal. Brolin plays it straight while Gosling plays it cool as usual and oddly gets a weak subplot involving his character's affair with Cohen's moll, played by Emma Stone. The only other standout from the rest is Mireille Enos as John's pregnant wife.
'Gangster Squad' is an entertaining watch while it lasts but you'll get the feeling you've seen this all before and maybe in a much better movie.