Josh Brolin as Sgt. John O’Mara
Ryan Gosling as Sgt. Jerry Wooters
Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen
Nick Nolte as Chief Bill Parker
Emma Stone as Grace Faraday
Anthony Mackie as Det. Rocky Washington
Giovanni Ribisi as Det. Conway Keeler
Michael Peña as Det. Navidad Ramirez
Robert Patrick as Det. Max Kennard
Josh Pence as Daryl Gates
Frank Grillo as Jimmy Reagan
Mireille Enos as Connie O’Mara
James Hébert as Mitch Racine
Haley Strode as Marcia Keeler
Sullivan Stapleton as Jack Whalen
Jon Polito as Jack Dragna
James Carpinello as Johnny Stompanato
Directed by Ruben Fleischer
It’s late 1949 and the afterglow of winning World War II has begun to fade from the US, slowly being replaced with the corruption inherent with being the richest kid on the block. Even starstruck Hollywood isn’t immune, as ruthless boxer-turned-gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) slowly closes his grip over the city. Since every action has its reaction, Cohen’s violence soon breeds a unique response of its own: men who will not bend to threats or bribes and who are more than willing to meet the Mob’s violence with the same. The men called “The Untouchables.”
No, wait, that’s a different movie. The men called “The Gangster Squad.”
The confusion is understandable and completely intentional as Ruben Fleischer (“Zombieland”) and his cast gamely covers the well-trod ground of “L.A. Confidential” and “Chinatown.” They may not offer much new to the field but a sense of fun and entertainment, but there’s nothing wrong with that either.
That’s mostly down to Fleischer himself who manages the difficult mix of suspense, action, and a fair amount of humor, more than you might expect from rousing gangster romper stomper. In Fleischer’s hands, the Gangster Squad often make hilarious mistakes like raiding an illegal casino filled with off-duty LA Sherriff’s deputies or trying to tear a jail wall down with a chain attached to a car bumper.
It’s all in the name of keeping the plot rolling in a film with little in the way of actual people so much as hands for punching and pulling triggers. The good guys are good, the bad guys are bad and that’s about the end of it. As a rule of thumb, don’t look for much depth when the hero decides to go rogue, because the local shoeshine boy gets shot in front of him.
Fortunately the cast, completely aware of the kind of film they’re making, are completely game, from Brolin’s loner ruffian to Gosling’s squeaky-voiced tough guy to Penn’s endearingly and ridiculously over the top Mickey Cohen.
It’s particularly noticeable among the supporting players who are as loosely defined archetypes (the Western gunfighter, the skinny nerd, etc.) as you could wish for. Fortunately, Fleischer has cast his supporting players to type in a way which works, so that they can get exactly the tone he wants out of early raids gone horribly wrong as much as later climactic shoot-outs.
Which are generally very good. After the lackluster “30 Minutes or Less,” Fleischer has returned to form here, showing himself a good hand at the suspense wheel. A particularly well-executed car chase with grenades being lobbed about may be “Gangster Squad’s” highlight. Which doesn’t stop him from lifting shamelessly from his inspirations, especially De Palma’s “Untouchables,” but fortunately “Gangster Squad” has a sense of humor glued on as tightly as its leads hats.
Sure it can be occasionally eye-rollingly obvious, such as when the good guys gather around a table to talk about making the city better or when O’Mara’s long suffering wife begins picking his crack squad for him. Those looking for the depth and complexity of the best of the genre are in the wrong place, but take “Gangster Squad” for what it is and it’s not a bad way to spend an evening.