Urban Cinefile  
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 


In the post-war Los Angeles of 1949, Brooklyn-born ex-boxer now crime king Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) runs as many rackets as he can command under his ruthless control, reaping the ill-gotten gains from drugs, guns, prostitutes and if he has his way, every wire bet placed west of Chicago. He does it all with the protection of not only his own paid goons, but also the police, judges and politicians who are on his payroll. When Police Chief Bill Parker (Nick Nolte) commissions Sgt. John O'Mara (Josh Brolin) - a decorated commando from the US Army - to set up a small, secret crew of LAPD officers, it is O'Mara's pregnant wife (Mireille Enos) who reluctantly helps her husband with strategic recruitment advice. Led by O'Mara and Sgt. Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), the small team (Robert Patrick, Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña, Anthony Mackie) set about breaking up and crushing Cohen's illegal operations. (Inspired by a true story.)

Review by Louise Keller:
There's a pivotal moment in which Conway Keeler (Giovanni Ribisi), the brains of the vigilante group of LA detectives trying to stop ruthless gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) from taking control of LA, when he questions the difference between them and the gangsters. This is in the context that the squad of five men wearing badges of courage and are seeking pride, not glory, were participating in bloody confrontations with as many heavy duty rounds of bullets fired as the gangsters they were trying to stop. It is a moment when we, like the characters, take stock of the situation and re- evaluate the objectives.

Inspired by real events and based on a novel by Paul Lieberman that explores the efforts of a squad of LAPD in 1949 who are asked by the Chief of Police (Nick Nolte), one of the few policemen who could not be 'bought' by the Mob, to leave their badges at home and stop Cohen establishing his gangster networks. As graphically described in the opening sequence, when a man is physically ripped apart, Cohen's brutal methods are as ugly as his philosophies. He clearly does not agree with the expression 'don't shoot the messenger'. His fury at anything that goes wrong in his lucrative world of drugs, gambling and prostitution is applied directly and immediately.

Penn instills intense ruthlessness and aggression into Mickey Cohen, so much so that his face mirrors the ugliness of his actions. By contrast, Josh Brolin as John O'Mara, the selfless man of honour who puts together the small group of men he considers to be appropriate for the task, is the epitome of decency. There's an irony in the fact that his pregnant wife Connie (Mireille Enos), despite her concern about the task, understands her husband perfectly, and suggests she look beyond force 'choir boys', and helps him recruit individuals who are unlikely to be on anyone's payroll.

The last member to join the squad (for reasons that become apparent), Ryan Gosling's Sgt. Jerry Wooters is constantly on a knife's edge, establishing a relationship with the scrumptious Grace Faraday (Emma Stone), who is never far from Mickey Cohen's side, as his 'etiquette tutor'. The scene in which Jerry literally bumps into Grace - and kisses her - when he and his colleagues are bugging Cohen's home, is audaciousness at the extreme. Stone and Gosling are good together, their chemistry tangible.

The violence is relentless with a non-stop stream of heavy fire and other thuggery, but always in line with the narrative. The realism is such that I felt I was an invisible bystander, ducking bullets as the action transpires. The contentious scene in which moviegoers were shot at Grauman's Chinese Theatre is no longer part of the film, having been removed following the shocking real-life July 2012 massacre in a Colorado movie theatre. It is credit to Will Beall's screenplay and Ruben Fleischer's direction that the characters are developed enough for us to understand their motives and see the human side of things. It is fitting that the final confrontation between Cohen and O'Mara is not with guns, but with fists and in the final analysis, it is the law that takes precedence over both.

Gripping, ballsy, edge of seat cinema, Gangster Squad is a reminder not only of the Mob violence of the era, but one in which honour and pride can triumph over the odds.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
In the vein of The Untouchables (1987) or End of Watch (Nov 2012 release) and similar crime-busting movies about clean Los Angeles or New York cops doing their duty in the face of corruption and deadly danger, Gangster Squad offers lots of gunfire and some top performances. The screenplay touches on the tension between dangerous duty to the public and private duties to one's family, as is always the backdrop to policing.

To a very large extent, Gangster Squad achieves its objectives as a patriotic flag waving for the honest men and women of the police force who face death every day as part of their job to secure the community. There are plenty of shoot outs and fisticuffs, and if it paints the goodies and baddies rather simplistically, that's part of the genre, too.

There is serious acting power on show, though, from Josh Brolin as the dedicated and decent honest cop who wants to bring down a major criminal while trying to stay alive for his unborn child's future, to Ryan Gosling as a bit of a playboy initially reluctant to participate. Nick Nolte brings authority and gritty gravitas to the role of the Police Chief, while Giovanni Ribisi, Michael Peña and Robert Patrick are terrific as the wire-tap specialist, back-up and sharp-shooter respectively. So is Anthony Mackie as the uniformed cop who joins them. (Peña also stars in End of Watch, by the way.)

Playing a central role in the story - as the femme fatale in a relationship with Mickey Cohen - Emma Stone is superb as Grace, whose affair with Gosling's Jerry puts them both in - additional - deadly danger.

Much acclaimed Australian cinematographer Dion Beebe does himself proud with the images, although I would have preferred some of the shoot-outs to be planned with even greater clarity; but his lighting work is superior.

Email this article

Favourable: 2
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

(US, 2013)

CAST: Sean Penn, Josh Brolin, Ryan Golsing, Emma Stone, Michael Peña, Anthonie Mackie, Robert Patrick, Nick Nolte, Frank Grillo, Mireille Enos

PRODUCER: Dan Lin, Kevin McKormick, Michael Tadross

DIRECTOR: Ruben Fleischer

SCRIPT: Will Beall (book by Paul Lieberman)


EDITOR: Alan Baumgarten, James Herbert

MUSIC: Steve Jablonsky


RUNNING TIME: 112 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 10, 2013

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020