Gangster Squad (15)

No names, no badges, no mercy.

Gangster Squad is set during LA’s post-war boom years, with the city’s police department battling to halt the rise of organised crime.

In a world where loyalty can be bought on a dime many of the LAPD have been swayed, but not Sergeant John O’Mara (Josh Brolin). LAPD chief ‘Whiskey Bill’ Parker (Nick Nolte) concludes that only way to bring him down is not with a police operation but a full-scale war!

O’Mara is given a top secret assignment, to take down a notorious mobster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn). A hand-picked squad of officers led by O’Mara and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling) take off their badges and set out to do this dirty yet essential, maximum-deniability job.

You would need to be very brave indeed to take on a man like Cohen. The merciless, Brooklyn-born mob king has LA by the balls, reaping the ill-gotten gains from the drugs, the guns, the prostitutes and-if he has his way-every wire bet placed west of Chicago. And he isn’t just protected by hordes of goons. Corrupt police and senior politicians are in his pocket too.

And so the ‘Gangster Squad’ is formed. Five men with one aim in mind, to tear Cohen’s world apart. O’Mara knows that it will be an epic task. The cop finds himself blurring the line between law enforcer and criminal as he attempts to bring down Cohen.

The unit’s plans go well, and they strike several successful blows at the heart of Cohen’s criminal organisation managing to shut down a very lucrative wire gambling business.

Cohen believes someone has betrayed him and strikes out at those around him, including his girlfriend Grace Faraday (Emma Stone). The silver-tongued lothario Wooters has been also been romancing Faraday. The Gangster Squad split up as Wooters goes to save Faraday and therein lies their downfall.

Gangster Squad has a top-notch cast in this adaptation of Paul Lieberman’s book about the real-life no-holds-barred battle for LA.

Sean Penn’s portrayal of Mickey Cohen is magnificent. He dines on roast peacock, quoting Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, shooting anyone doesn’t see things his way and generally having the time of his life. Behold as Cohen, in full view of the Hollywood sign, commands dogs to feast on a slain man’s innards. That’s how Cohen ends employment. He is a psychopathic monster.

Brolin’s take on soldier-turned-cop John O’Mara is brilliant. He has the right mix of Dick Tracy jaw and wholesome air, but seems somewhat hemmed in by the character’s white-knight righteousness.

The big selling-point is Ryan Gosling, who gets many of the best moments as the amusingly named Jerry Wooters. The romantic subplot between Gosling and Stone may seem a little bit like Crazy Stupid Love in fancy dress, but the pair’s chemistry still scorches, with writer Will Beall giving them some choice repartee:

Faraday – “Let me guess: you want to take me away from all this and make an honest woman of me?”
Wooters – “No, ma’am. I was just hoping to take you to bed.”

From the sets and elegant night clubs to the art deco buildings as well as the fabulous cars, (why don’t they look like that anymore?), everything is authentic and transports us back to the glamorous Golden Age of a the 40’s.

Slick, sharp and stylish, Gangster Squad tips its Fedora to such chrome-plated classics as The Untouchables and LA Confidential. This is crime history retold as comic-book pulp.

By Ruth Walker
★★★★☆

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