If there’s one thing that never gets old in the film industry, it’s the film noir genre. Commonly associated with big-time mob bosses, mysterious women and skulking detectives, there’s always a hint of danger in each gangster flick that remains fresh and exciting, no matter how many of them are made. Especially today among vampire culture and futuristic sci-fi films, it’s nice when someone like Ruben Fleischer takes us back to the golden days — or in this case, the tarnished days — and creates something we all wish we were old enough to reminisce about. “Gangster Squad” is exactly that: reminiscent.
The stylish crime drama works on multiple levels to reflect both the glamour and the corruption associated with Hollywood during the late 1940s. The clubs are extravagant, the Los Angeles elite all flaunt their devil-may-care attitudes and yet there’s no shortage of gun war and seedy gang-run businesses. “Gangster Squad” provides the perfect balance between Hollywood banter and bullet-filled stand offs.
Many former LA cops return to their jobs from the war to find that the police department has become even more corrupt than when they left it; everything that is said between the could-be-dirty cops suddenly takes on a new meaning, especially when family-man Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) is told “There’s two things you can’t take back on this job, pal: bullets out of your gun and words out of your mouth.”
Powerful gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) is out to take over California — and maybe even the West Coast altogether — and it’s up to the dependable O’Mara to round up a team of LA’s finest to fight fire with fire and eliminate crime from the City of Angels.
Brolin, with his husky voice and solid stature, is respectable as a hardworking cop who will stop at nothing to rid his city of filth so that his family will be able to live peacefully. Many critics were let down by Brolin’s “weak performance,” but it shouldn’t be forgotten that O’Mara is a man of few words and internal struggles; he knows exactly what he wants and he sticks to his gut. Brolin adapts to the role wonderfully.
Ryan Gosling is effortlessly charming as the young, smart-mouthed Sergeant Jerry Wooters. Always suave and with eyebrows constantly raised as if carrying a secret, Gosling is the perfect man-in-a-suit as Wooters and a great match for the serious O’Mara.
Emma Stone is voluptuous and tempting as Wooters’s love interest (and also gangster Cohen’s female companion) Grace Faraday, though I admit that disappointment set in when I realized her role would only consist of her portraying nothing but a pretty moll doll.
While the all-star cast shines in their respective roles, it’s ultimately Sean Penn that wins my vote for best performance as Mickey Cohen, the untouchable American gangster with some serious anger issues. With a lazy, slurring voice and a confident swagger, Penn takes complete control of every scene he’s in, so much so that it’s actually exciting every time he takes a puff of his cigar or shoots someone with a machine gun. His temper tantrums are real and intense, though toward the end of the movie they occur so frequently I’m slightly reminded of an attention-starved child. Nevertheless, though he’s no De Niro, Penn deserves to be added to the list of most authentic gangster portrayals to date.
The movie lacks character development, proving to be more of a crime film than a drama, but then again, there’s not much room for development when the clock is ticking for a five-man vigilante team to end Cohen’s Hollywood reign of terror. “Gangster Squad” is sophisticated and violent — everything you can ask for in a film noir.
Recommended: It’s a turf war sitting through.